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Friday September 21, 2012Florida vs. Kentucky: 10 Things to Watch

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The Internet is a fascinating place to be during a Gators football game. Regardless if you are on a live blog, Twitter, Facebook or a fan message board, the mood swings are of epic proportions.

It can be like listening to Metallica and Barry Manilow at the same time.

On one play Jeff Driskel resembles Jeff Foxworthy in the pocket, on the next play he is better than Tim Tebow. The Gators can't tackle their mom on one series, and then are loaded with future NFL stars on the next.

That's what makes Florida football fun. People care. They have opinions and are quick to share them during a game.

There is a renewed sense of hope around the program following the Gators' road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee. Fans are excited about this team in a way they haven't been in a couple of years.

Heck, at least one sportswriter has Florida ranked No. 1 in his personal poll.

That probably made Gators coach Will Muschamp spill his morning coffee.

Following Florida's 37-20 win at Tennessee a week ago, Muschamp offered his perspective.

"Let's not start celebrating here,'' he said. "Let's be realistic where we are."

Muschamp makes a valid point. The Gators showed some moxie like we haven't seen lately in the tough SEC road wins. Still, how good are they?

We don't really know. However, we get another chance to find out on Saturday against Kentucky, and if they beat the Wildcats, more answers should arrive when LSU comes to town on Oct. 6.

Still, it's a lot more fun when the Gators are relevant on the national stage. They are suddenly a story. They moved up to No. 14 in the polls this week and people are now mentioning them as a contender to win the SEC East.

Who knows if it's too early for such talk? The season is only a quarter finished so there is a lot of football to play.

For now, here are 10 things to watch in Saturday's game against Kentucky:


The Gators showed they can close in road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee. Now they want to show they can start strong.

Florida trailed at halftime in both games and also fell behind early in the season opener at home before taking a 14-7 lead over Bowling Green. With an obvious talent advantage over the Wildcats, Muschamp could empty the bench and give his starters a rest if the Gators can put away the Wildcats early.


True, Driskel did start at receiver in the season opener. Still, fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett was the starting quarterback when he took the first snap for Florida.

So Driskel is technically making his first career start at quarterback at Florida Field against Kentucky. He played the first quarter and entire second half in the season-opening win over Bowling Green.

However, in the two games since, Driskel has grown up some. He showed how much at Tennessee by playing with a newfound assertiveness that was impressive for a young quarterback in only his second career start.


Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith is off to a good start. Smith has passed for 966 yards and eight touchdowns in the first three games.

Smith leads the SEC in passing at 322 yards per game and is expected to air it out often against the Gators. His favorite target is La'Rod King, who hauled in a career-high 10 passes in last week's one-point loss to Western Kentucky.

The Smith-King combo is one that has the attention of the Gators' secondary.


First-year Gators offensive coordinator Brent Pease once served in the same role at Kentucky. During Pease's tenure with the Wildcats the quarterback was Jared Lorenzen, aka the "Hefty Lefty" for his large frame.

Lorenzen showed off his skills on Twitter earlier this year when he criticized Pease after news broke that Pease was Florida's new offensive coordinator.

At a booster function over the summer, Pease was asked about Lorenzen's tweets and quipped he wouldn't mind scoring 50 against Kentucky.

Pease downplayed the Lorenzen's remarks this week, calling him a "good kid." Kentucky coach Joker Phillips shared his own quip with Kentucky reporters.

"Tell Pease that Jared is sorry, OK,'' Phillips joked. "I'll apologize for him."


In the first half at Tennessee the Gators had trouble getting to Vols quarterback Tyler Bray. That wasn't an issue in the second half as Florida took control.

The defensive line started to put pressure on Bray, who wasn't nearly as effective after halftime. The biggest play came when pass-rush specialist Lerentee McCray hit Bray as he threw a pass and the ball floated into the arms of safety Matt Elam for an interception.

The turnover led to a Florida touchdown. The Gators want to make sure Smith doesn't get too comfortable in the pocket on Saturday.


The Gators most notable injury in the Tennessee game was to starting defensive end Dominique Easley, who tweaked his knee late in the game.

Muschamp said Easley's knee was swollen this week and that he is considered questionable. If Easley can't play, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said either Jonathan Bullard or Earl Okine would start in his place.


The Gators revived the optimism of Gator Nation with their impressive road wins. They now get to come home and play in front of their fans for the first time since the season opener.

In recent years the Gators have played as many as three consecutive games at home to start the season. Not this year. But the wait was worth it considering Florida sits atop the SEC East.


The Gators racked up 406 yards rushing in last year's 48-10 win over the Wildcats. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey each surpassed 100 yards, and Mike Gillislee had a then-career-high 84 yards.

Gillislee shattered that mark with 148 yards in the season opener. He added 115 yards at Tennessee. Look for Gillislee to get plenty chances to add to his SEC-leading rushing totals Saturday. The gut feeling here is that Gillislee might have a new career-high by the time the game is over.


A lot of Florida fans left The Swamp frustrated after the season opener. The Gators won handily over Bowling Green, but they wanted to see the offensive fireworks Pease's offense was known for at Boise State.

The wait ended in the second half at Tennessee when the Gators scored 21 points in a span of 10 plays. Florida rolled up 555 yards of total offense against the Vols, its most in a conference game in 11 years.

While the Gators will look to run often against Kentucky, look for more formations ran out of the spread offense the Gators used to complement their power run game at Tennessee.


Where were you on Nov. 15, 1986? The Gators spent a miserable day in Lexington losing 10-3 to the Wildcats. The date is significant because it's the last Kentucky win over a Florida team.

The Gators own a 25-game win streak over the Wildcats and seek to stretch that streak on Saturday. They are a heavy favorite to do so as they try to win their SEC home opener for the eighth consecutive year.



No. 14 Florida (3-0, 2-0 in SEC) vs. Kentucky (1-2, 0-0)

Kickoff: Saturday, 12:21 p.m. (Ben Hill Griffin Stadium)

TV: SEC Network Dave Neal (play-by-play), Andre Ware (analyst), Cara Capuano (sideline)

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (click here for affiliates); GatorVision audio; XM 199; Sirius 136

Game notes: Florida; Kentucky

Bottom line: Florida returns home to face the Wildcats fresh off back-to-back road wins at Texas A&M and Tennessee. Those two wins sparked renewed optimism in Gator Nation, and a win over Kentucky would be a perfect way to enter the upcoming bye week and with a home date against LSU looming Oct. 6.


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