On Saturday, the Gators face their second SEC opponent, and in many eyes, their last tune-up game before the "real season" begins. Whether it's because of still sky-high expectations or a lack of perceived danger from Kentucky, Saturday's contest has basically been written off as a win.
The Gators have some claim to this entitlement: No team in the SEC has owned another conference opponent like Florida has over Kentucky over the last two seasons.
In 2008 and 2009, the Gators won against the Wildcats by scores of 63–5 and 41–7. Kentucky went bowling in both seasons, and no other team even comes close to the Gators 104–12 scoring disparity (Alabama ekes out a 21-point disparity over the same period, FYI).
However, this isn't the 2008-2009 Gators. Most of the players relied upon to get that 92-point scoring advantage are in the NFL, and the new offense hasn't shown anything approaching that level of explosiveness.
Kentucky actually poses a legitimate threat this year and is a team that the Gators should be worried about for the following four reasons.
Ole Miss Ackbar Says, "It's a Trap!"
As the foremost expert on recognizing things that are traps, Admiral Ackbar's advice should carry some weight. He's not just riding on his laurels of recognizing traps a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away either. The rebel leader has already sniffed out two traps this season (sadly, for Ole Miss fans, he was not able to contact Coach Nutt prior to the games and inform him of what lay waiting).
Kentucky is flying well below the radar right now because they haven't played anyone important. After playing Louisville in a tight game, they blew through two gimme games and are about as "figured out" as Florida is at this point.
If there was ever a time to not see a team coming, it's this week. Alabama is looming, Kentucky hasn't won over Florida since before I was born, and the Gators are sloppy at tackling shifty runners in open field situations. Speaking of shifty runners...
Randall Cobb is the Best Player on the Field
Florida fans, remember BJ Daniels, that annoying running back who ran all over the Gators, but also threw four interceptions in the USF game? Kentucky has their own version of him, only he's less power, more Percy Harvin. Randall Cobb is the biggest game-changer in college football right now.
This year he is going to run for a TD, pass for a TD, catch a TD, run back a punt for a TD, and run back a kickoff for a TD. In fact, he's already 80 percent there. All he needs is a kick return TD to become immortalized as the best utility player ever.
Kentucky probably watched the USF game. They probably realized that Florida is unathletic at defensive end and had trouble containing the option. They also probably noticed Florida's secondary miss a few coverages against Tennessee, which kept the Vols in the game.
Randall Cobb runs the option and he averages over 13 yards per reception. He's going to challenge every crack in the Gators defense and he's almost good enough to send it crumbling down by himself. The Gators can't rely on forcing him to run, like they did with Daniels either, thanks to the next issue.
Mike Hartline Is a 72-Percent Passer
Cobb is truly a change-of-pace player for the Wildcats. Unlike Daniels, he only throws when the play has been set up correctly. For the other passes, Kentucky leaves the ball in Hartline's very capable hands. While I mentioned that Kentucky hasn't played a team with any semblance of a real defense yet, they also haven't made any mistakes against those terrible teams.
In a sense, they are cruising along just like Florida is in the passing game. Nobody has challenged them yet. However, unlike Brantley, Hartline has stepped up, throwing for over 200 yards in each of the first three games.
He's also only been sacked once. The Gators haven't had trouble getting to the quarterback this year as they're averaging three sacks per game. However, much of that production has come from blitzes, which opens the door for accurate quarterbacks to pick apart a defense.
Kentucky Is a Balanced Offense
Unlike Florida, who has an inept offense, Kentucky averages nearly 500 yards per game. They average 247 on the ground and 255 through the air. Part of that is thanks to Cobb's constant threat all over the field, but a large portion rests on the shoulders of senior running back, Derrick Locke.
Thanks to Ingram's injury and subsequent return, and Florida's stout defense last week, Locke is the top rusher in the SEC. In case you didn't figure it out through the last sentence, Tauren Poole was the top rusher until Florida shut him down totally last week.
There was never a threat that Matt Simms was going to win the game for the Vols (although he tried to make a case for exactly that), so the Gators keyed in on the rushing attack. Let me be clear: THAT WON'T WORK THIS WEEK.
It's not that Locke is better than Poole; that may or may not be true. Kentucky simply has more options. They can run three separate offenses: rushing attack, air it out, or wildcat. In a sense, they are a little like Florida was back in 2007 and 2008. There's no single way to completely shut down their offense.
Florida does not want to get in a shootout with the Wildcats. Jeff Demps can't carry that load. The Gators must find a way to stop Kentucky to avoid a somewhat humiliating upset and a virtual end to any remaining national title hopes.
Luckily for the Gators there is one dull spot to be exploited.
Kentucky Still Can't Play Defense
The Wildcats love giving up points to Florida more than they love giving up points to any other team. This year, they've already given up six touchdowns to vastly inferior teams. By comparison, Florida has given up four touchdowns to somewhat inferior teams. Kentucky has given up a touchdown in each quarter and has given up four plays of more than 50 yards (two kicks and two runs).
Florida has big-play capability in Deonte Thompson and Jeff Demps (at least, judging by last year's version of DT). The poor tackling and the general level of crappiness that Kentucky plays at against Florida may be enough for the Gators to run away with this game. Don't count on it though.