UK Football

Kentucky-Florida predictions: Tale of two quarterbacks could decide fates in SEC opener.

It’s almost game time. Here are some final thoughts on how Kentucky’s game against Florida might play out Saturday at Kroger Field.

How to stream the UK-Florida football game.

Sawyer Smith starts slow

In his first start after replacing Kaleb Barker, who suffered a season-ending leg injury at Troy last year, Sawyer Smith was 13-of-25 for 135 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The Trojans lost that game, 22-16, at Liberty. Could this be a repeat?

Smith has greater talent around him at Kentucky than he did down in Alabama, but the competition he’s about to see is several tiers above that of the Flames, who finished 6-6 in their first season as an FBS program. He benefits greatly from the fact that UK’s offensive front last year held Florida to just three tackles for loss, no sacks and no quarterback hurries, and the fact that the Gators’ stat-stuffing defensive line hasn’t gone up against a line like UK’s so far in 2019.

Still, Florida’s not Liberty, nor is it Eastern Michigan, against whom Smith got his first taste of the season. He could play well, overall, but I don’t expect Smith to come out on fire against the Gators.

Florida’s sack average dwindles

The Gators’ gaudy sack stat — 15 through two games — was buoyed in week zero when they faced a young Miami (Fla.) line that in week two surrendered four more sacks to North Carolina. Florida is impressive, and the UK coaches have lauded defensive coordinator Todd Grantham’s ability to cause havoc in the backfield, but to expect it to generate more than a sack or two against the Wildcats this weekend seems dangerous.

UK’s offensive line has arguably been its most impressive unit through two weeks of the season. That’s not surprising due to its depth and the experience of those big bodies, but it’s encouraging to see line play continue to be a strength with so many other positions around the field still feeling things out as Southeastern Conference play gets underway.

Feleipe Franks feasts

Last year, a senior-laden group of Kentucky defensive backs held sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks to 17-of-38 passing in a 27-16 UK victory. If Franks, now a junior going up against a much-greener secondary, completes less than 50 percent of his passes again this week it’d be nothing short of astonishing.

Through two games Franks has completed 42 of 54 (a 77.7 percent clip) for 524 yards, four TDs and two interceptions. Franks against Tennessee Martin last week completed 25 of 27 passes, setting a Florida record for completion percentage. Sure, it was against an FCS opponent, but the balls still had to go through the air.

Among SEC teams, only Vanderbilt has given up more yards through the air this season than UK, against whom opponents have averaged 251.5 yards per game. The Cats rank 96th nationally in passing yardage allowed; they finished 18th overall in that same category last year (Florida is 38th in pass yardage earned, FYI). UK has come up with three interceptions this season but two were by inside linebackers — DeAndre Square in game one and Kash Daniel in game two. Jordan Griffin intercepted a pass in the second game as well.

The score

Kentucky 33, Florida 27: Much of this guess comes from confidence that the offensive line will show up against its biggest test so far and pass with flying colors. Smith doesn’t need to be great, nor do I think he necessarily needs to be good, but he can’t be bad if UK wants to build a win streak against the Gators. The Cats’ secondary continues to be a concern but other areas of the defense are capable of affecting Franks well enough to make things uneasy for him Saturday at Kroger Field. Home-field advantage can’t be undervalued, as UK’s last two games against Florida in Lexington were nail-biters.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader

Josh Moore is in his first year covering the University of Kentucky football team and in his fifth year reporting for the Lexington Herald-Leader, where he’s been employed since 2009. Moore, a Martin County native, graduated from UK with a B.A. in Integrated Strategic Communication and English in 2013. He’s a huge fan of the NBA, Power Rangers and country music.