The Kentucky Wildcats battle the Florida Gators in the SEC’s best game of Week 2. It’s also the most important SEC game of Week 2. South Carolina-Arkansas is a good game, but this is a better one, given Florida’s win over Utah, which kicked off the Billy Napier era in style.
By Matt Zemek
Kentucky and Florida regularly meet early in the season, and before the Florida-Utah game was played, it was legitimate to think that catching a Florida team in Week 2 with a first-year head coach was an advantage for Kentucky. Yet, after seeing the way the Gators played against Utah, that line of thought has at least been diminished. It might have been thrown out of the window altogether.
Let’s look at the three big keys for Big Blue, as Mark Stoops’ team tries to sustain momentum from its terrific 10-win season last year:
1 – Anthony Richardson as a runner
Utah learned this lesson the hard way: Focus on stopping Anthony Richardson as a runner first, then as a passer. Force him to beat you downfield with long throws. Take away his running lanes. Keep the pocket sealed. Don’t let him break free. Account for him on read option plays and have the numbers ready to account for him.
Richardson operates within a Florida offense which enables him to make an instant choice at the line of scrimmage depending on the numbers of bodies he sees in the tackle box, and on the number of players a defense commits to stopping the run. Richardson will have a running back available to hand the ball off to, but if the defense has a man dedicated to stopping him, he can’t fake a handoff and bust through a hole. He has no place to go. Utah did not get that extra man in position to make tackles on Richardson, who would fake the handoff, draw the defender (usually a linebacker) inside, and would then keep the ball and run outside the tackle for a solid gain. Kentucky has to establish containment of Richardson. If not, it’s likely to be a long night for Big Blue.
2 – Will Levis, standing tall
Here we go. This is a big-boy football game, and it requires a big-boy performance from Will Levis. Utah quarterback Cam Rising was not terrible against Florida, but he made big mistakes in big moments. Levis has to own those kinds of moments and make the tipping-point plays which lift the Wildcats when they really need a spark.
3 – Ball control
We saw Florida’s defense get very tired and become highly vulnerable in the second half against Utah. Mark Stoops prefers to run the ball and establish a physical ground game. Here’s Kentucky’s chance to do just that against a defensive line which is not at the height of its powers.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 5:00 PM CT (7:00 PM ET). You can watch this SEC football game on the ESPN Network.