Behind Enemy Lines: Scouting Kentucky

Nov 25, 2020 | 0 comments


No. 6 Florida is just two wins away from clinching their first SEC East title since 2016. However, a team that’s been a thorn in their side in recent years stands in the way.

Kentucky (3-5) has come back down to earth this season following one of the best two-year stretches in program history, and they were bludgeoned 63-3 by Alabama last week.

Still, you can rest assured that UF (6-1) will not take the Wildcats lightly. Not after it took two touchdown passes to uncovered receivers to win in 2017. Not after the Wildcats ended the 31-year losing streak to the Gators in the Swamp in 2018. And not after it took a once-in-a-generation comeback led by the backup quarterback to escape Lexington with a win last season.

Here are three positions of strength, three positions of weakness, and three players to watch for from the Wildcats.


Three Positions of Strength

Defensive Back

The Wildcats lead the SEC in passing defense at 222.8 yards per game, and they’re second with 12 interceptions. Even in their 60-point drubbing at the hands of Alabama, they surrendered less than 300 passing yards and intercepted Mac Jones. LSU transfer Kelvin Joseph is as good as it gets in the conference at cornerback. He leads the league with four interceptions, including a pick-six. Nickelback Brandin Echols is fourth on the team in tackles. Strong safety Tyrell Ajian is fifth on the team in tackles and has intercepted a pass, while free safety Yusuf Corker is second on the team in tackles and has recorded a sack and an interception. This will be a matchup of the conference’s best passing offense versus its best passing defense.

Offensive Line

Kentucky runs the ball 63 percent of the time. Even though opponents know the Wildcats are going to try to run the ball down their throats, they still can’t stop it, which is a sign of a strong offensive line. They rank fourth in the SEC in rushing offense at 178 yards per game, and they rank third with 4.7 yards per carry. They’re a large, veteran group, with two starters weighing more than 320 pounds and four of the five starters being juniors or seniors. Kentucky will try to limit the number of possessions in the game by controlling time-of-possession. Florida’s defense has had mixed results against similar offensive approaches this season. It’s imperative that they force Kentucky to throw the ball more than they want to.

Running Back

They’re three-deep in the backfield. Chris Rodriguez is the lead back with 88 carries for 562 yards and six touchdowns. His 6.4 yards-per-carry average leads the league. He’s a powerful runner between the tackles. His status for Saturday is uncertain after he missed the Alabama game with no explanation given. If he’s unable to play against Florida, they’ll still have a pair of talented runners that can carry the load. Asim Rose has gained 359 yards on his 65 carries (5.5 yards per carry), while Kavosiey Smoke has gained 137 yards on his 24 carries. This is one of the deepest backfields in the conference.

Three Positions of Weakness

Defensive Line

This is the one weakness on an otherwise good defense. They’re giving up 158.3 rushing yards per game, which is eighth in the league, and 4 yards per carry, which is seventh. They don’t make a lot of impact plays up front, either, as they’re last in sacks and tied for 12th in tackles-for-loss. Their defensive linemen have combined for just 3.5 sacks this season. They have some massive guys on the line, including 357-pound Quinton Bohanna, and three of the four starters are upperclassmen, so much more was expected from this unit. Expect Florida to employ a similar game plan to the one they used against Arkansas, with a larger-than-usual emphasis on the running game to start.

Quarterback

Terry Wilson is basically just another running back on the field. He’s rushed for 339 yards and four touchdowns. However, he’s thrown for just 832 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s averaging a little more than 19 passing attempts and nearly 119 passing yards per start. He looked like one of the league’s burgeoning stars when he was the catalyst to the Wildcats’ upset of Florida in 2018, but he hasn’t been the same player this season following his major knee injury in 2019.

Tight End

Starting tight end Keaton Upshaw has done a fine job with both blocking and receiving. He’s tied for third on the team with 10 catches, second on the team with 134 yards, and first on the team with two touchdowns. However, there are major depth concerns behind him. Justin Rigg and Brenden Bates have combined for nine receptions for 79 yards. Neither of them was available against Alabama. If one or both of them don’t make the trip to Gainesville this weekend, the Wildcats will have to get creative with how they’re going to block for their power-rushing attack.

Three Players to Watch

Wide Receiver Josh Ali

Ali has 38 receptions for 395 yards. The next closest wide receiver has 14 catches for 87 yards. The Wildcats’ limited passing game runs almost exclusively through Ali. Kentucky will try to lull UF’s secondary to sleep with run after run and then hit them with a deep ball. That strategy was good enough to beat the Gators in 2018 and put a major scare into them in 2019. Kaiir Elam and Marco Wilson need to force UK to beat them with receivers that haven’t proven much so far.

Linebacker Jamin Davis

He’s the Wildcats’ Swiss Army knife. He leads them with 73 tackles and has also contributed a sack, two interceptions, and a forced fumble. If there’s a big play defensively, it’s a pretty safe bet that he’ll be in the middle of it. However, he missed the Alabama game for an undisclosed reason, and it is unknown if he’ll be available this weekend. If he’s not, Florida should be in line for another 550-yard, 40-point day.

Quarterback Terry Wilson

“Touchdown Terry,” as he’s known to the Wildcat faithful, hasn’t played very well this year, but he played a major role in Kentucky’s upset of Florida in the Swamp in 2018. He ran for 105 yards and a touchdown and threw for 151 yards and two touchdowns. If Kentucky is going to pull off the upset again, they’ll likely need a similar stat line from Wilson. He’s the best rushing quarterback in the league, and the Gators have struggled to contain mobile quarterbacks at times under Todd Grantham. If they keep him in check, Florida wins this game comfortably.

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