How Kentucky and Florida match up at each position:
In his third career start, Kentucky’s Drew Barker was terrific in the first half (11-for-19 for 287 yards with four TD passes and no picks) in UK’s come-from-ahead loss against Southern Mississippi and struggled (36 yards passing, an interception, two lost fumbles) in the second. In his first career start, Florida redshirt sophomore Luke Del Rio performed competently (29-of-44 passing for 256 yards with two TDs and no turnovers) in what was an otherwise lackluster 24-7 Gators win over Massachusetts. For the 6-foot-1, 211-pound Del Rio, Florida is his third school after stops at Alabama and Oregon State.
UK senior Jojo Kemp (five carries, 7 yards) got the start against Southern Miss, but junior Boom Williams (13 carries, 94 yards) was the Wildcats’ most effective runner. Overall, the Kentucky rushing attack vs. USM (130 yards on 25 carries) did not match preseason expectations. Florida struggled on the ground (107 yards on 29 attempts) vs. UMass, too. Sophomore Jordan Scarlett, a 5-10, 213-pound Fort Lauderdale product, ran for a team-high 70 yards. Jordan Cronkite, who started against UK last season, gained 5 yards on three carries and caught two passes vs. UMass.
Kentucky junior Garrett Johnson caught six passes for 143 yards and two TDs in the opener. The 5-11, 175-pound product of Winter Garden, Fla., also had a big game the last time UK played in The Swamp (six catches, 154 yards, two TDs). Florida was counting on junior-college product Dre Massey to energize its offense, but he suffered a season-ending knee injury on the opening kickoff last week. In his absence, sophomore Antonio Callaway (career-high eight catches, 72 yards, a TD) and junior Brandon Powell (career-high seven catches, 73 yards) were UF’s main targets. Touted freshman Tyrie Cleveland returns this week from a suspension.
After a summer of talk about how UK was going to enhance the role of its tight ends, neither sophomore C.J. Conrad nor Nebraska transfer Greg Hart had a catch in the opener. Coached by ex-Kentucky player and assistant Greg Nord, Florida’s DeAndre Goolsby had three catches for 28 yards, including a 20-yard fourth-quarter catch, vs. UMass. The Gators also get talented redshirt sophomore C’yontai Lewis back after he was suspended for the season opener.
Neither team was happy with its offensive line play last week. Led by senior center Jon Toth, Kentucky expected the interior of its line to be a strength, but the Cats struggled to block active Southern Miss nose guard Dylan Bradley. Coached by ex-UK offensive line coach Mike Summers, guard Martez Ivey and tackle David Sharpe were counted on to anchor the Florida line. After the Gators had difficulty running on UMass, UF Coach Jim McElwain called out the offensive line. “We’ve got to challenge our guys up front, control the line of scrimmage a little bit,” he said.
Suspect coming into the season, the Kentucky front lived down to fears in the opener, as Southern Miss dominated the line of scrimmage, especially in the second half, while running for 262 yards. Backup end Alvonte Bell (four tackles) led Cats linemen in stops. Florida redshirt senior Bryan Cox Jr. and redshirt junior Caleb Brantley entered the season touted for All-SEC recognition.
Kentucky sophomore WLB Jordan Jones was all over the C.M. Newton Field last week, recording a whopping 19 tackles (13 solos, two tackles for loss, one sack). Sophomore SLB Kobie Walker also compiled double-digit tackles (10). A 6-2, 240-pound senior, Florida’s Jarrad Davis (nine tackles, a sack vs. UMass) is one of the best LBs in the SEC. His running mate, Alex Anzalone, a 6-3, 237-pound redshirt junior, had a sack and a pass breakup last week.
Kentucky senior backup cornerback J.D. Harmon had two interceptions, a pass breakup and a TFL last week. Mark Stoops said he believed touted UK sophomore CBs Chris Westry and Derrick Baity are capable of playing better than they did vs. USM. Florida gets standout CB Teez Tabor — the artist formerly known as Jalen — back from suspension this week. CB Quincy Wilson had a TFL last week and picked off a UK pass last season.
Kentucky had a punt blocked and mishandled what was intended to be a field goal try in the opener, but Mark Stoops lauded UK’s kickoff returns and coverage. In his college debut, UK true freshman punter Grant McKinniss averaged 36.8 yards on four kicks. Florida place-kicker Eddy Pineiro was a high school soccer standout in Miami who turned himself into a football place-kicker working with an instructor. Against UMass, he became the first UF kicker since 2003 to make three field goals (40, 48, 49) of more than 40 yards. Punter Johnny Townsend averaged 44.5 yards on four kicks.