Kentucky @ Florida
Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Florida
12.30am (Saturday night) September 14th 2014 (SEC Network)
The Kentucky Wildcats and Florida Gators are both undefeated, and in Gainesville on Saturday, it will be time to put up or shut up for both teams. This game means more than just a leg up in the SEC East. It will be a proving ground for two programs still smarting from poor seasons and looking to regain some confidence. Both have played their early season tune-up games, won handily and now the real season starts. Lots of questions will be answered on Saturday that could not be found in victories over the likes of Eastern Michigan and UT-Martin.
Florida is looking to cool Will Muschamp‘s hot seat, and a big win over the Wildcats could begin that process. This is a night game in Gainesville, where Kentucky has had almost no success. In fact, Florida has not lost to Kentucky since 1986, many of those wins coming by way of double-digit blowouts. The new-look Gator offense looked extremely proficient last weekend, and if that performance can be repeated, the Wildcats may be in for a whole heap of trouble.
Florida needs to win big here; a last second squeaker will not quell the angst reverberating off the walls of the Swamp. If Kentucky can penetrate defensively and create turnovers, the Florida boo-birds could come out in full force. It is no secret that this season is make or break, so the slightest misstep will be magnified by fans and media alike. There are plenty of fans who want Muschamp to succeed and there are just as many who wanted him gone five minutes ago. Quarterback Jeff Driskel will need to lead the Gator offense to the end zone early and often. Dante Fowler and the defense will need to put Kentucky Quarterback Patrick Towles on his back and eliminate any threat of an upset in the first half.
For Kentucky, this will be a statement game. Mark Stoops has revived interest in a program that has really struggled this decade. While this may not be the Gators of the 1990s or mid-2000s, it is still Florida. Hanging a loss on the Gators on their home turf would undeniably catapult the Wildcats into a new realm of football euphoria, a feeling that has largely escaped Lexington in recent years. Even if Kentucky hangs around and loses a close one, it would still send a message to the rest of the conference that the Cats are no longer the pushover of the division.
Taking the crowd out of the game is absolutely key to this victory. The Swamp gets awfully hostile when Florida is rolling, and Towles’ response to pressure will be the difference in the Cats hanging in or getting crushed once again in Gainesville. A resounding defeat will lead to the “same old Kentucky” arguments that have plagued the program for years. Competing for an East title may not be in the equation this year, but dealing this knockout blow to the Gators and possibly Muschamp’s head coaching tenure would have the national media talking about Kentucky more than just the school where Jared Lorenzen used to play.
All signs point to a Florida victory, but there are some positive winds blowing through the bluegrass right now. Stoops and company keeping their poise against a crowd clamoring for a bloodletting will speak volumes for the state of the program. Rest assured, this game is one to watch.
PREDICTION: Kentucky 17, Florida 35