Gainesville, FL – Following back-to-back road wins to open up their SEC schedule at 2-0, the 14th-ranked Florida Gators return to Gainesville for a clash with the Kentucky Wildcats.
Kentucky's season has been up and down thus far. It bounced back from an opening-week loss to rival Louisville (32-14) by posting a convincing win over Kent State (47-14). The Wildcats then suffered another disappointing loss last week versus Western Kentucky, falling in overtime, 32-31, on a successful trick play on a two-point conversion. It was only their second loss to a current member of the Sun Belt Conference.
Although Florida sits with a perfect 3-0 record, none of its victories have come easy. The Gators were tested on opening day against Bowling Green before pulling out a 27-14 victory, and they trailed at halftime in both of their conference games before coming back to beat Texas A&M (20-17) and Tennessee (37-20). They have now outscored their opponents 50-13 in the second half this year, including 27-0 in the fourth quarter.
Florida leads the all-time series with Kentucky, 45-17. The Gators are in the midst of an incredible 25-game winning streak against the Wildcats, the longest active streak in the nation for a team against a conference opponent.
Kentucky has put together impressive numbers on offense (30.7 ppg, 428.3 ypg), thanks in large part to the play of its quarterback.
Maxwell Smith has been the SEC's most prolific passer, completing 68.5 percent of his passes (102-of-149) for a league-high 966 yards and eight touchdowns. With the good comes the bad however, as he has tossed a conference-worst four interceptions, all of which came last week against WKU.
"I obviously did not play very well," Smith said following his recent performance. "A couple of (the interceptions) were just miscommunications. We still have nine more games. It will be all right. The road definitely does not get any easier."
La'Rod King (23 catches, 214 yards, two TDs) and Aaron Boyd (18 catches, 168 yards, TD) have been sure-handed targets for Smith down field. DeMarcus Sweat has made the most of his three catches, putting up 80 yards and two touchdowns.
Raymond Sanders has been the most explosive runner out of the backfield with 16 carries for 153 yards and a touchdown, while Jonathan George (19 carries, 103 yards) has found the end zone three times. CoShik Williams (14 carries, 66 yards) began the season as the starter, but has been battling a hip strain.
The Wildcats defense has been a disappointment thus far, giving up nearly 400 yards per game while allowing opponents to convert 48 percent of their third- down opportunities.
Avery Williamson has tallied a team-high 33 tackles and has recorded the unit's lone interception. The secondary boasts a pair of potential playmakers in Alvin Dupree (four TFL, sack) and Collins Ukwu (2.5 sacks)
The Florida offense has been modest thus far (28 ppg), but it is coming off a breakout performance against Tennessee last week where it churned out 555 yards, the most it has tallied in a conference game since 2001.
Jeff Driskel won the starting quarterback job over Jacoby Brisset in the offseason, and he's proving the coaching staff's decision to be a good one. He has completed more than 71 percent of his passes (37-of-52) for 495 yards and three touchdowns (zero INTs), while rushing for another 113 yards. Driskel is also the reigning SEC Offensive Player of the Week following a stellar game against Tennessee (219 passing yards, 81 rushing yards, two TDs).
"I've always felt like from a potential standpoint that (Driskel) had everything he needed to be successful," head coach Will Muschamp said of his quarterback. "A lot of the game has slowed down for him. He's able to anticipate things more. He's able to see things more."
An effective running game has helped take a lot of pressure off of Driskel. Mike Gillislee has been one of the SEC's most effective backs, leading the conference in yards (346) while ranking second in carries (56) and rushing touchdowns (four). Trey Burton emerged in the Tennessee win as a home run threat, toting the ball just three times for 90 yards and two touchdowns.
Tight end Jordan Reed has been Driskel's best friend in the passing game, hauling in a team-high 13 balls for 152 yards and touchdown. Frankie Hammond, Jr. has 164 yards on only six catches (27.3 ypc) with a pair of scores.
The defense for the Gators has helped keep them in these close games, allowing just 17 ppg. The unit has been especially solid late, as it has yet to allow a point in the fourth quarter.
Matt Elam had a huge game against Tennessee, recording 10 tackles, a sack and an interception. Lerentee McCray and Marcus Robinson have also made interceptions this year, while Jon Bostic has made 18 tackles, with three for a loss.