By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky will be facing the nation’s 10th-ranked rushing defense when it hosts No. 9 Florida Saturday night. Kentucky broke a 31-year losing streak to the Gators last season and will now be trying to beat Florida for the first time in Lexington since 1986 (and don’t even get me started on the game two years ago when UK blew a 27-14 fourth-quarter lead and lost 28-27 to the Gators).
Kentucky running backs A.J. Rose and Kavosiey Smoke, who have combined for 360 yards and are averaging about 6.0 yards per carry, will go against a defense that has allowed just 70.5 yards per game and is limiting foes to 2.2 yards per carry.
However, think back to last year’s win when UK’s offensive line dominated the Gators — who missed an astonishing 23 tackles in the loss.
Every week Kentucky coach Mark Stoops points out how games are won or lost in the SEC based on line play. This week certainly is no exception.
“In our league it’s a big boy league, and so you always have to — you always have to handle it up front. And they (Florida) are very, very talented and disruptive on their defensive line, and so our O-Line will have their hands full,” Stoops said. “It’s a challenge getting — like I said, getting positive yards on first, second down and being in manageable third downs, but also mixing it up.
“You can’t be predictable, because they’re pretty stout up there and they can be exotic when you get in predictable situations.”
Not exactly sure what to make of that but Stoops said Florida’s “exotic” looks could fool UK quarterback Sawyer Smith or even the offensive linemen on what might be coming on third down and long plays by “where they set the protection” to stop the defense.
“You get in third and long and you do have a new quarterback, then they are going to be exotic. And the big term that we all seem to use in the defensive coaching is affecting the quarterback. It’s not just pressure. It’s not just sacks. It’s affecting him whatever way, whether it’s condensing the pocket, keeping him in there with a guy that can run, and different pressures, different looks, different change- ups and coverage. So there’s a lot of things they can do and you can do to affect the quarterback,” Stoops said.
The Kentucky coach added that Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham is someone he respects for the job he does annually.
“They’re just a very disruptive defense. They have really good players. They have some game wreckers up there up front,” Stoops said. “They have 15 sacks in two games, and they always have great skill. So they’re well coached in all facets of the game.
“(Florida coach) Dan (Mullen) does a remarkable job. They’re always really tough. They’re a tough football team, very well coached on offense, defense, special teams. So they do a good job with good players.”