The Opening Kickoff
No. 20/19 Florida at Kentucky
Saturday, 7:00 p.m.
Info | Game
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- The dominant
storyline for so many years in the Florida-Kentucky rivalry has revolved around
The Gators have won
26 consecutive games over the Wildcats and with a victory Saturday, Florida can
set an SEC record for longest win streak against a conference opponent. The
Gators share the record currently with Tennessee, which defeated Kentucky 26
consecutive times until the Wildcats snapped their futility against the Vols in
That is a storyline
the Gators want to avoid at Commonwealth Stadium in their SEC road opener.
a lot,'' said South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier, who went 12-0 against
Kentucky in his time as Florida's coach. "I think I would rather be on the
winning side of that streak than the losing."
While Florida coach Will
Muschamp prefers to downplay any talk of the Gators' remarkable win streak
over the Wildcats, he would probably welcome that topic as the primary
storyline after what transpired in the past week.
The Gators lost starting
quarterback Jeff Driskel for the season due to a lower leg injury in
last weekend's win over Tennessee, and then on Tuesday, starting defensive
tackle Dominique Easley suffered a season-ending knee injury at
Less than a month
into the season and the Gators have lost two of their most important players.
How the Gators
adjust to the losses will determine what kind of season they have.
Let's take a look at
the Gators-Wildcats matchup with The Opening Kickoff:
Five Storylines to
quarterback Tyler Murphy will make his first career start. The
redshirt junior had not thrown a pass in his college career until replacing
Driskel midway in the first quarter of Florida's 31-17 win over Tennessee.
Murphy finished 8 of 14 for 134 yards and rushed for 84 yards. Overall,
not a bad debut for a player who watched five UF quarterbacks take snaps
the past three years before he finally got his opportunity.
- The loss of
Easley is one that will be difficult for the Gators to overcome. The
senior leader was playing perhaps the best football of his career and was
a strong All-American candidate. The Gators have recruited well on defense
under Muschamp, so he and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will
look for production from those top recruits they have brought in the past
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, like Muschamp, climbed his way up the
coaching ladder as a defensive coordinator. Stoops spent the last three
years as Florida State's defensive coordinator and he is familiar with
Florida's offense. This is the SEC opener for the Wildcats expect more of
a buzz at Commonwealth Stadium than usual.
- Getting off to
a good start is always important, but perhaps more so than usual in this
one for the Gators. They have a new quarterback making his first career
start on the road, and they are dealing with the emotional toll of losing
two key players in a span of a few days. Falling behind early is not the
best recipe for success considering the circumstances.
- The game marks
the return of Joker Phillips to Kentucky, where he was head coach
the past three seasons and has spent the majority of his coaching career.
Phillips is now Florida's receivers coach and his familiarity with the
Wildcats' personnel was an added bonus for Florida in preparing for the
Cast of Characters
- Gators junior
defensive tackle Darious Cummings had the highlight moment of his
young Florida career with a 30-yard interception return against Tennessee.
Cummings started his career at Florida State, transferred to East Mississippi
Community College, and then to Florida. He moves up the depth chart
following Easley's injury and could provide the Gators a huge boost by
- All eyes will
be on Murphy in his first start. Murphy aced his role by coming off the
bench and saving the day against Tennessee. Florida isn't expected to make
wholesale changes on offense with Murphy in charge. Instead, look for him
to try and make plays on the run and rely on the running game to set up
opportunities in the passing game, much like the Gators did with Driskel.
receiver Solomon Patton took a short pass from Murphy and turned
the play into a 52-yard touchdown in last week's win, putting Florida at
ease following Driskel's injury. Patton has shown vast improvement through
three games and has emerged as the early season playmaker the Gators need.
freshman running back Jojo Kemp entered the season third on the
depth chart behind seniors Raymond Sanders and Jonathan George. However,
through three games, Kemp is averaging 9.3 yards per carry to give the
Wildcats another threat in the backfield.
- The Gators'
offensive line has not been at full strength due to various nagging
injuries. Starting right guard Jon Halapio returned to the lineup
last week after missing fall camp and the first two games due to a torn
pectoral muscle. Halapio then had to leave the game with an eye injury. He
later returned, but if Halapio can get closer to full speed that would
provide a much-needed boost to Florida's run game.
The Quote File
- "Our specialists
need to get better. We're not very productive at the punter position right
now or at placekicker. We didn't really affect the game as far as special
teams are concerned like we have in our previous time.'' -- Muschamp on
the kicking game
- "It's not
an issue for us when someone goes down. It just shows how much depth we
have and how we can count on each other to step up when someone goes
down." -- Defensive back Jaylen Watkins on Florida's secondary
- "Kind of the guys that I looked up to growing up.
They went to the same high school, so I always had tickets to go and I
stayed down there a lot." -- Kentucky running back Kemp, who grew up
in Deland and is good friends with former Gators Mike Gillislee and
10 Quick Hitters
- Freshman wide
receiver Demarcus Robinson is expected to return to the lineup for
the Gators. Robinson was out last week due to a violation of team rules.
Gators defensive back Brian Poole is suspended for the first half
due to his targeting penalty against Tennessee.
- Muschamp put
starting punter Kyle Christy and kicker Austin Hardin on
alert this week, saying both spots were open for competition with the
kicking game struggling through three games.
defense is prepared for Kentucky's quarterback tandem of Maxwell Smith
and Jalen Whitlow. Smith is more of the traditional pocket passer
while Whitlow is more of a dual-threat quarterback.
cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, listed on several All-American lists
prior to the season, has been quiet other than for his blocked punt at
Miami. Purifoy left the Tennessee game with a thigh contusion but Durkin
said he looked fine at practice and is expected to play.
junior-college transfer Za'Darius Smith is off to a fast start.
Smith has 4.5 sacks in Kentucky's first three games, which places him
among the national leaders.
26-game win streak over Kentucky is the nation's current longest between
two major FBS opponents in an uninterrupted series. The all-time record is
Notre Dame's 43-game win streak over Navy from 1964-2006.
- The Gators lead
the SEC in scoring defense (14.7 points per game), total defense (212.3
yards per game), run defense (55.3 ypg) and pass defense (157 ypg).
- This is the
fifth consecutive season Kentucky faces Florida in its SEC opener. The
Wildcats are being tested early, with four consecutive games against teams
currently ranked in the Top 25: Louisville (lost, 27-13), Florida, South
Carolina and Alabama.
- The Gators
forced six turnovers against Tennessee, the most they have caused in an
SEC game since Tennessee turned it over six times in a 35-29 loss to the
Gators in 1996.
offensive coordinator Brent Pease spent two seasons at Kentucky as
offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach in 2001-02. In 2002, Florida
escaped with a 41-34 home win, one of the closer games during Florida's
26-game win streak over the Wildcats.
The Bottom Line
This has the feel of
a perilous game for the Gators with a new quarterback and without one of the
team's most talented players.
Expect Murphy to place
a huge emphasis on protecting the ball and relying on the Gators' SEC-leading
defense as much as possible.
Despite a turbulent
week for the Gators, they are the more talented team and should be able to run
the ball against the Wildcats. That could be the difference in what many expect
to be a low-scoring game.