Mark Story

How Kentucky and Florida match up — with a game prediction

In his first career start, Kentucky junior middle linebacker Kash Daniel (56) led the Wildcats with 11 tackles in UK’s 35-20 season-opening victory against Central Michigan.
In his first career start, Kentucky junior middle linebacker Kash Daniel (56) led the Wildcats with 11 tackles in UK’s 35-20 season-opening victory against Central Michigan. aslitz@herald-leader.com

How Kentucky and Florida match up at each position — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Kentucky’s Terry Wilson (11-for-18 passing, 78 yards, two interceptions; nine rushes, 38 yards, a lost fumble) committed all three of his turnovers in the first half against Central Michigan. He was also knocked from the game with a bruised shoulder. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound junior-college transfer returned in half two to lead two scoring drives in Kentucky’s 35-20 victory . To win in Gainesville, UK will need more production from Wilson. Florida sophomore Feleipe Franks had a difficult 2017 season but got 2018 off to a roaring start by throwing for 219 yards and five TDs in the Gators’ 53-6 win over Charleston Southern. Last season in Lexington, the 6-6, 240-pound Franks did not play well (7-for-12 passing, 85 yards, one TD), was pulled and watched from the bench as Florida rallied from 27-14 down to win 28-27.

Advantage: Florida

Feleipe Franks throwing.JPG
After a difficult 2017 season, Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks (13) got 2018 off to a strong start by throwing for five touchdown passes in the Gators’ season-opening 53-6 victory over FCS foe Charleston Southern last week. Phelan M. Ebenhack AP

Running backs

Kentucky junior star Benny Snell overcame a 102-degree fever to run for 125 yards and two TDs vs. Central Michigan. Last season, Florida held the 5-11, 223-pound Snell to 59 yards on 14 carries. Against CMU, redshirt sophomore AJ Rose flashed the potential to give UK a potent one-two punch by rushing for 104 yards and two TDs on only eight carries. Florida has a stable of capable RBs that includes freshman Dameon Pierce (nine carries, 73 yards last week), sophomore Malik Davis (six, 38), junior Lamical Perine (two, 28) and redshirt junior Jordan Scarlett (six, 24).

Advantage: Kentucky

Benny Snell vs. Florida.JPG
Florida held Kentucky star running back Benny Snell Jr. (26) to 59 yards on 14 carries last season in the Gators’ 28-27 come-from-behind victory at Kroger Field. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Wide receivers

The good news for Kentucky last week is that sophomore Lynn Bowden, expected to give UK a dynamic playmaker in the slot, had five catches. The bad news was the five receptions yielded only 17 yards with a lost fumble Central Michigan returned for a TD. Ex-Lexington Catholic star David Bouvier, the former walk-on, had three catches for a team-best 48 yards against Central Michigan, including a 24-yard scoring toss from backup QB Gunnar Hoak. Florida’s wideout corps has been boosted by transfers. Ex-Mississippi standout Van Jefferson had 4 catches for 34 yards last week with two TDs. Former Ohio State WR Trevon Grimes had three catches for 50 yards and a TD. Explosive slot receiver Kadarius Toney missed last week due to suspension. He hurt UK last season with his legs (two rushes, 39 yards, 1 TD), his arm (threw a 50-yard pass completion) and his hands (four catches, 35 yards).

Advantage: Florida

Mississippi Kentucky Football
Wide receiver Van Jefferson, who caught five passes for a 82 yards for Mississippi in its 37-34 win over Kentucky at Kroger Field a season ago, is now playing for Florida. The 6-foot-2, 197-pound junior caught four passes for 34 yards and two TDs last week in his Gators debut, a 53-6 victory over Charleston Southern. David Stephenson Associated Press

Tight ends

Kentucky senior C.J. Conrad caught three balls against Central Michigan, but those went for only 9 yards. UK needs to figure out a way to make the 6-5, 252-pound LaGrange, Ohio, product a more consistent part of its passing game. Florida redshirt senior C’yontai Lewis has started 23 of the Gators’ past 24 games. Last season, the 6-4, 233-pound Lewis caught seven passes for 42 yards and 1 TD.

Advantage: Kentucky

After practice on Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018, Kentucky tight end C.J. Conrad talks about his training camp. The Wildcats open the season Sept. 1 against Central Michigan.

Offensive line

With starting left tackle Landon Young out for the season due to a knee injury, Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said redshirt freshman Naasir Watkins and USC transfer E.J. Price “played winning football” last week in their first college action. Stoops said senior right tackle George Asafo-Adjei “played extremely good” against Central Michigan. Florida left tackle Martez Ivey leads a veteran unit that returned all five starters. However, redshirt junior Nick Buchanan has wrested the starting center job away from T.J. McCoy.

Advantage: Even

LFtli.So.79.jpeg
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said right tackle George Asafo-Adjei (64) “had a really good game” in UK’s victory over Central Michigan. Matt Goins

Defensive line

Showing strong depth, Kentucky’s No. 2 defensive line of end Calvin Taylor, nose guard Tymere Dubose and tackle Phil Hoskins plus No. 3 end Kordell Looney all had 3 tackles each vs. Central Michigan. Florida junior end Jabari Zuniga anchors the Gators’ defensive front and had 2 tackles and a QB hurry last week. Sophomore tackle Tedarrell Slaton made two stops and returned a fumble 22 yards vs. Charleston Southern.

Advantage: Florida

Kentucky football has lost 31 straight games to the Florida Gators. With UK playing at Florida on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018, will head coach Mark Stoops talk to his team about the streak?



Linebackers

In his first career start, UK junior MLB Kash Daniel (11 tackles, two QB hurries) acquitted himself well vs. Central Michigan. Senior OLB/rush end Josh Allen was the disruptive force last week Kentucky expects with 10 tackles, three TFL, a sack and a QB hurry. Standout Florida ILB David Reese missed last week with a reported ankle injury and UF Coach Dan Mullen said Monday the 6-1, 248-pound junior is “questionable” vs. UK. OLB/rush end CeCe Jefferson was suspended last week. In Florida’s season finale vs. Florida State last year, Jefferson had nine tackles with three TFL. This week he is listed behind sophomore Jachai Polite, who had four tackles with a pass breakup and a forced fumble last week.

Advantage: Even

Defensive backs

Kentucky free safety Darius West had 7 tackles last week, while backup safety Davonte Robinson, the former Henry Clay High School star, had three stops. Florida held Charleston Southern to 3 yards passing last week. UF nickle back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson was stellar with five tackles, 2.5 TFL and two QB sacks. On Monday, he essentially guaranteed that Florida would record its 32nd straight win over Kentucky.

Advantage: Florida

Chauncey Gardner-Johnson.JPG
Florida defensive back Chauncey Gardner-Johnson (23) had two quarterback sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss in the Gators’ season-opening victory over Charleston Southern. Phelan M. Ebenhack Associated Press

Special teams

UK’s new punter, Australian sophomore Max Duffy, had a stellar debut last week, averaging 50 yards on four punts with two kicks stopped inside the 20. New kicker Miles Butler made all five PATs but did not get to try a field goal. New Florida punter Tommy Townsend, a transfer from Tennessee and younger brother of ex-Gators punter Jonny Townsend, punted twice last week for a 44.5 yard average. Freshman kicker Evan McPherson booted field goals of 21 and 31 yards. As a high schooler in Alabama, he once made a 60-yard field goal in a game.

Advantage: Florida

Florida's winning streak over Kentucky is the longest one active in all of the Football Bowl Subdivision by one opponent over another. The 31 losses, displayed here in Herald-Leader headlines through the years, date to 1987.

Prediction

Florida 24, Kentucky 19.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230; Twitter: @markcstory

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