Mark Story

How Kentucky and Florida match up — with a game prediction

How Kentucky (2-0, 0-0 SEC) and No. 9 Florida (2-0, 0-0 SEC) match up at each position for Saturday night’s college football contest at Kroger Field — with a game prediction:

Quarterbacks

Terry Wilson was one of the heroes of Kentucky’s streak-busting 27-16 win at Florida last season, passing for 151 yards and two touchdowns while running for 105 yards and a TD. With Wilson out for the remainder of the 2019 season with a torn patellar tendon in his left knee, Sawyer Smith will make his first Kentucky start Saturday. A graduate transfer from Troy, the 6-foot-3, 219-pound Smith went 5-2 last year as a starter for the Trojans and completed 62.9 percent of his passes with 14 TDs and six interceptions. Florida’s Feleipe Franks (77.8% completions in 2019 for 524 yards with four TDs and two picks) will be making his third career start vs. UK. Two seasons ago, Franks was pulled against Kentucky and watched backup Luke Del Rio rally the Gators from 27-14 down to a 28-27 win. Last year, Franks completed only 17 of 38 passes vs. Kentucky, threw an interception and lost a fumble.

Advantage: Florida

Running backs

Kentucky redshirt freshman Kavosiey Smoke (170 yards, 9.4 yards per carry) is seventh in the SEC in rushing; UK starting tailback A.J. Rose (146, 4.2) is ninth. Quietly, Florida’s Lamical Perine is one of the SEC’s most complete backs. The 5-11, 218-pound senior from Mobile, Ala., leads the Gators in rushing (94 yards, 4.7 ypc, one TD) and receiving (nine catches, 40 yards, one TD).

Advantage: Even

Lamical Perine.JPG
Florida running back Lamical Perine leads the Gators in both rushing (93 yards) and receptions (nine) this season. Rob Foldy Getty Images

Wide receivers

Kentucky star Lynn Bowden (13 catches, 131 yards, one TD in 2019) stung the Gators last year, catching four passes for 79 yards including a 54-yard TD bomb. It will be interesting to see how Florida tries to defend Ahmad Wagner (six, 128, one) — UK’s pass-interference-drawing machine. Florida will be without dynamic flanker Kadarius Toney (left shoulder injury), but the Gators’ wide receiving corps is still deep and talented. Senior Josh Hammond (eight catches, 115 yards) leads Florida in receiving yards. Transfers Van Jefferson (Mississippi) and Trevon Grimes (Ohio State) are major weapons; Jefferson has five catches for 108 yards and a TD, while Grimes has six receptions for 66 yards.

Advantage: Florida

Van Jefferson vs Miami.JPG
A transfer from Mississippi, wide receiver Van Jefferson (12) led Florida with 35 receptions last season. John Raoux AP

Tight ends

Kentucky starter Justin Rigg has one reception for 9 yards, but scored a TD in UK’s season-opening victory vs. Toledo on a fumble recovery in the end zone. Redshirt freshman Keaton Upshaw has four catches for 38 yards. Florida sophomore Kyle Pitts won the starting job over redshirt junior Lucas Krull. Pitts has caught five passes for 36 yards.

Advantage: Even

Keaton Upshaw.JPG
Kentucky tight end Keaton Upshaw (88) fought for extra yards against Eastern Michigan defensive back Brody Hoying (24) during UK's 38-17 victory over the Eagles. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Offensive line

Kentucky left tackle Landon Young was SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week after grading out at 91 percent with seven knockdown blocks in UK’s 38-17 win over Eastern Michigan last Saturday. Against a disruptive Florida defense (15 sacks in two games), UK will need a strong showing from its veteran offensive line. Florida center Nick Buchanan is the only returning starter from 2018 on the Gators’ offensive front. The redshirt senior is the anchor of a unit that entered the season as the primary question mark for Dan Mullen’s team.

Advantage: Kentucky

Landon Young beats the heat.JPG
Kentucky left tackle Landon Young was SEC Offensive Lineman of the Week after grading out at 91 percent with seven knockdown blocks in UK's 38-17 win over Eastern Michigan last week. Brian Simms Brian Simms

Defensive line

After Phil Hoskins missed UK’s first two games with what Mark Stoops termed an “academics issue,” the 6-5, 310-pound senior defensive tackle will return this week. Hoskins had a QB sack in last year’s UK victory at Gainesville. Florida junior nose tackle Kyree Campbell has been dominant (team-high 10 tackles, two tackles for loss, a forced fumble). Redshirt senior end Jabari Zuniga has been disruptive — of his six tackles, three are QB sacks.

Advantage: Florida

Kyree Campbell.JPG
Florida nose tackle Kyree Campbell (55) leads the Gators with 10 tackles, including two tackles for loss. Phelan M. Ebenhack AP

Linebackers

Kentucky senior MLB Kash Daniel had a game-high 11 tackles in last season’s win at Florida. The Paintsville product had an interception last week vs. EMU. Redshirt sophomore OLB/rush end Josh Paschal leads UK with three TFL. Florida ILB David Reese II had a team-high eight tackles vs. Kentucky two years ago but missed last year’s game with an ankle injury. OLB/rush end Jonathan Greenard, a graduate transfer from Louisville, has seven tackles, two TFL and 1.5 sacks.

Advantage: Florida

Defensive backs

Kentucky sophomore free safety Yusuf Corker and junior-college transfer cornerback Brandin Echols tied for the team lead in tackles vs. Eastern Michigan with seven. Senior strong safety Jordan Griffin had an interception last week. He played well last season at Florida with four tackles. The status of star Florida cornerback CJ Henderson (sprained ankle) is uncertain. A 6-1, 202-pound junior from Miami, Henderson intercepted a Terry Wilson pass last year and had four tackles and a pass breakup vs. UK in 2017. Marco Wilson, UF’s other starting CB, is back after suffering a season-ending injury against Kentucky last year.

Advantage: Florida

LEX_190831UKfootballas18.JPG
Kentucky cornerback Brandin Echols (26) leads the Wildcats with three pass breakups. Alex Slitz aslitz@herald-leader.com

Special teams

UK’s Max Duffy leads the SEC in yards per punt (50.4) and has stopped five of his nine kicks inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. Redshirt freshman place-kicker Chance Poore is 2-of-3 on field goals with all his attempts from outside the 40. Lynn Bowden is averaging 26.3 yards on three kickoff returns and 14 yards on two punt returns. Florida’s Tommy Townsend has only punted four times, but is averaging 46 yards a kick and has stopped all four inside the 20. Place-kicker Evan McPherson is 2-of-2 on field goals with a long of 32 yards. Freddie Swain has averaged only 3.7 yards on six punt returns. UF is averaging 26 yards on three kickoff returns.

Advantage: Kentucky

Max Duffy punting.JPG
Kentucky punter Max Duffy (93) leads the SEC with an average of 50.4 yards a kick on nine punts. Ken Weaver

Prediction

Florida 28, Kentucky 20

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Mark Story has worked in the Lexington Herald-Leader sports department since Aug. 27, 1990, and has been a Herald-Leader sports columnist since 2001. I have covered every Kentucky-Louisville football game since 1994, every UK-U of L basketball game but three since 1996-97 and every Kentucky Derby since 1994.
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