Kentucky Wildcats (0-1 SU, 0-1 ATS) vs. Florida Gators (1-0 SU, 0-1 ATS)
College Football Week 2
Date/Time: Saturday, September 10, 2016 at 3:30PM EST
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, Florida
by Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: UK +16.5/FLA -16.5
Over/Under Total: 47.5
The Kentucky Wildcats come to Gainesville on Saturday to face the Florida Gators in week two SEC action. Kentucky was unable to get their season started on a positive note, dropping a 44-35 result to Southern Miss in week one. They can atone for that against 25th-ranked Florida on Saturday. In week one, the Gators beat UMass, 24-7. They didn’t cover the spread, but got the win and look forward to notching a conference win at home. When these teams met last season, Florida was able to emerge a winner, 14-9 in a real grind. It was the 29th consecutive time the Gators beat Kentucky—the longest such streak in all of the FBS.
Florida made some nice gains last season under first-year coach Jim McElwain, winning the SEC East and 10 games overall. Florida had fallen into a funk and McElwain was able to right the ship in his first season. McElwain, the offensive coordinator for Alabama for four years, was able to return to the SEC and show his mettle. Quarterback Luke Del Rio takes over behind center for the Gators. The former Alabama and Oregon State player was 29-for-44 with 256 yards and a pair of TD throws. MeElwain would like to see more out of the offense moving forward.
Granted, Southern Miss is an offensive-heavy team that can throw a wrench into anyone’s plans, but Kentucky was hoping for a better start under 4th-year head coach Mark Stoops. They had won ten straight home openers by an average of 30 points and were favored, so the loss qualifies as a setback for this program. It was thought if the team could turn it up a notch and have some inexperienced pieces fall into place, they could get to a bowl game after just missing out in the past two seasons. Giving up 44 to Southern Miss showed that a talented but inexperienced defense still has a ways to go. The offense might be experienced and capable, but they also showed they still lack the special dimension that could transcend this team.
Sophomore Wildcats QB Drew Barker was actually pretty good in week one, going 15-for-24 with 323 yards and 4 touchdowns. Three turnovers were a definite roadblock to victory, as was a defense that seemed incapable of notching a clutch play. Late in the 2nd quarter, it was 35-10 Kentucky and they were dominated the rest of the way. It was a bad testament of both sides of the ball. The defense couldn’t get a stop to save their lives, while the offense went into the tank for the balance of the game after an impressive first half.
Kentucky will look for better follow-through this week and there are some horses. Leading rusher from 2015 Stanley Boom Williams ran for 94 yards on 13 carries, while their weapons aerially were in fine form. Leading receiver from last season Garrett Johnson went for 143 yards and a pair of TDs. Sophomore Tavin Richardson made his presence known with 74 yards receiving. The tools are there, but goodness gracious, to get shut out and put up 22 yards of offense in the second half against Southern Miss at home is really miserable.
The Kentucky defense was pretty stout against what is a really good Southern Miss offense, before falling apart late. There was some playmaking evident on Saturday, with JD Harmon notching two picks, with Blake McClain hauling in another pick. But in the end, giving up two huge rushing performances to a pair of Southern Miss backs was too much to overcome. There is talent here, with monsters on the defensive line and some big strapping corners. It just looks like a lack of experience on this side of the ball will end up costing them.
Florida was 10-1 last season before losing 3 straight. After a lukewarm win over Massachusetts in week one, one should expect McElwain to start applying the whip a bit this week. He’s not one to let things slide and he’ll do his best to have the Gators on-point against the Wildcats. This is Del Rio’s first real collegiate test. At his disposal are backs like Jordan Scarlett and Mark Thompson. Scarlett had 70 yards in week one, but after losing Kelvin Taylor, this is not a shining light on offense. Del Rio will be depending on a nice 1-2 receiving punch in Antonio Callaway and Brandon Powell—both of whom caught TD passes last week. Add in Andre Goolsby and Jordan Cronkrite and the aerial attack should be decent this season.
Last year, we saw Florida’s defense carry them very far when the offense stagnated after QB Will Grier was suspended. A line that put a lot of pressure on opposing quarterbacks looks loaded again this season, though it loses a few key pieces that need to be replaced. The middle looks dicey, with a lot of youth, while the secondary features Jalen Tabor (out?) and Marcus Maye, who should keep them in good form. All in all, however, they did lose a lot of leadership across all areas, but recruiting has been strong and should pay off.
This is a tricky one. On one hand, you have a Florida team that took to flight under a first-year coach last season. But enough pieces are gone from that equation to make Florida something less than a bankable choice to win this division again. They won their first game without incident, while last season is still fresh in most people’s minds. But with the way they finished last season, the missing ingredients, and a so-so showing against U-Mass, there is some element of doubt. Contrast that with a Kentucky team that never gets respect. They lost their first game to a Conference-USA team after leading 35-10 with a comical demonstration of ineptitude in the second half. Add it all up and it creates almost too convenient of an image. I see Kentucky giving Florida enough problems to make covering the big number a big problem.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Kentucky Wildcats plus 16.5 points.
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