How Kentucky and Florida match up at every position — with a game prediction:
Enhancing his reputation for clutch play, Kentucky’s Stephen Johnson (62.7 completion percentage; 569 yards passing; 132 yards rushing on the season) ran for 54 yards on a third-and-8 from the UK 36 late in the game to set up the game-clinching score in the Wildcats’ 23-13 win over South Carolina. Since the 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior from Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., became the primary Kentucky QB, UK is 10-4. Florida redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks enters his first start in a true road game after beating Tennessee last week with a 63-yard touchdown pass as time expired. The 6-5, 227-pound product of Crawfordville, Fla., completed 18 of 28 for 212 yards and two TDs with an interception in the 26-20 victory over UT.
Kentucky star Benny Snell has run for 100-plus yards in back-to-back games, but the 5-11, 223-pound sophomore from Westerville, Ohio, needed 32 carries to produce 102 yards and two touchdowns at South Carolina. UK needs someone from among Sihiem King, A.J. Rose and Bryant Koback to emerge as a reliable complement to Snell. Florida’s best running back, Jordan Scarlett, is among nine Gators suspended due to an ongoing investigation of alleged credit card fraud. The Gators are averaging only 89.5 yards rushing (12th in the SEC) through two games. True freshman Malik Davis had a 72-yard run against Tennessee and is UF’s leading rusher (five carries, 102 yards) on the season.
UK senior Garrett Johnson had four receptions at South Carolina and leads the Cats in catches (eight). As a freshman in 2014, the 5-11, 175-pound senior from Winter Garden, Fla., torched his home-state Gators for six catches, 154 yards and two TDs. With an acute need for playmaking, UK continues to hope true freshman Lynn Bowden will supply some. Florida’s Tyrie Cleveland was on the receiving end of Feleipe Franks’ last-play, game-winning TD last week. With star wideout Antonio Callaway among the suspended Gators, Cleveland leads Florida with nine catches. Recruited as a quarterback, true freshman Kadarius Toney flashed explosive potential as a wideout (four catches, 40 yards) against Tennessee.
Kentucky completed passes to three different TEs at South Carolina, with C.J. Conrad (seven receptions for a team-best 161 yards and two TDs on the season) catching two, and Greg Hart and Justin Rigg one each. Former Kentucky player and assistant Greg Nord coaches the Florida tight ends. Last year’s standout, DeAndre Goolsby (38 catches for 342 yards in 2016), has been hampered in 2017 by a leg injury, but is expected to be 100 percent this week. C’Yontai Lewis has three catches for 20 yards.
With Kentucky starting right guard Nick Haynes managing the effects of Type 1 diabetes, redshirt sophomore Mason Wolfe logged 52 snaps in UK’s win at South Carolina. “He’s getting better with every opportunity,” UK Coach Mark Stoops said of the former Henderson County standout. After Michigan’s 33-17 win over Florida in the season opener, Gators Coach Jim McElwain called out his team’s offensive line, saying UF had been “physically whooped by big, strong guys.” Martez Ivey, Florida’s best O-lineman, is at left tackle this year after playing mostly left guard in 2016.
Under new defensive line coach Derrick LeBlanc, Kentucky leads the SEC in rush defense, surrendering only 57 yards a contest. At South Carolina, sophomore end T.J. Carter and senior nose guard Matt Elam broke up passes, too. Florida is 13th in the SEC against the run, surrendering 199 yards a game. Smallish in terms of bulk but athletic, the Gators are very good at disrupting quarterbacks. Against UT, redshirt sophomore Jabari Zuniga had six tackles, including 1.5 tackles for loss; sophomore Jachai Polite had five tackles; and junior Cece Jefferson had two QB hurries. Junior Jordan Sherit leads Florida in sacks with two.
Filling in for the injured Jordan Jones at WLB, Kentucky redshirt sophomore Eli Brown had six tackles, including one for loss, at South Carolina. The “Blitz Brothers” — OLBs Josh Allen and Denzil Ware — were active last week. Allen had a sack and Ware had four tackles. Florida’s David Reese had a team-high seven tackles in the win over Tennessee and intercepted a pass. He leads the team with 18 tackles. Kylan Johnson had four tackles vs. Michigan but missed the Tennessee game with a hamstring injury. The 6-2, 236-pound sophomore is “doubtful” against UK.
Kentucky cornerback Derrick Baity was SEC co-Defensive Player of the Week for his play at South Carolina — where he made tackles on two fourth-and-1 plays (two of his eight stops) and sealed UK’s win with an interception. Strong safety Mike Edwards (seven tackles, one interception) was also productive in Columbia. Florida’s secondary has returned three interceptions for TDs — two by true freshman CB CJ Henderson and one by senior CB Duke Dawson. After leaving the Tennessee game with a head injury, Dawson is in the concussion protocol this week and his status for Saturday is unknown. The Gators already lost physical safety Marcel Harris for the year to a preseason injury.
Kentucky place-kicker Austin MacGinnis was SEC Special Teams Player of the Week after booting three second-half field goals at South Carolina. The senior is now 22 points from becoming UK’s all-time leading scorer. Punter Matt Panton averaged 44.5 yards on four kicks at South Carolina and pinned the Gamecocks inside the 20 once. Florida’s kickers are very good. Place-kicker Eddy Pineiro is 3-of-4 this year on field goals with a long of 46. Last year, he made 11 field goals from outside the 40, including two 54-yarders. Johnny Townsend leads the nation in punting, averaging 50.2 yards a kick.
Florida 15, Kentucky 13