5 things to watch for in Florida’s Week 2 matchup with Kentucky

·5 min read

After Florida’s week one win over the Utah Utes, the Gators shot up the national polls and are now a consensus top-20 team in the country.

Week two brings the Kentucky Wildcats to town, though, and Florida hasn’t been nearly as strong against UK in recent years as in the past. Mark Stoops helped the ‘Cats break a 31-year drought in 2018 and followed things up with another win in 2021, but this will be the first matchup between the two with Billy Napier involved.

Napier outright admitted that Florida got lucky winning the game on Saturday against Utah and said that there was plenty to clean up before taking on Kentucky. It was that kind of humility and approach that kept UF in the game against Utah, but this time the Gators are favored to win.

With Kentucky being ranked No. 20 in the AP Top 25, this is one of the bigger games in the SEC this week. A win for either club would put them in a good spot early to compete for the SEC East title. Tennessee would be the only other major hurdle aside from the obvious clash with No. 2 Georgia.

Anthony Richardson vs. Will Levis

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

It’s not a hot take to say that all eyes will be on [autotag]Anthony Richardson[/autotag] on Saturday. He entered the Heisman conversation after a strong week one and earned SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors for his heroics in the win over Utah. The exciting part is that as he eases into the starting role, he should only get better.

Richardson could take a big step in Saturday’s game against Kentucky. The first-game jitters are gone, Napier has gone over the film with him and he’s got some extra motivation to outdo UK quarterback Will Levis.

Before the season, a photo of Richardson was taken in his new locker and it featured a poster that listed the top four quarterbacks in the conference. Richardson wasn’t on it and Levis was. Perhaps it was just study material, but fans are expecting big numbers in this matchup.

Levis is no slouch, though. He threw for nearly 3,000 yards last year and his 24 touchdowns outpaced his 13 interceptions. Draft experts gave Levis a first-round grade during the offseason, and his 303 yards and three touchdowns against Miami, Ohio, back that up. He’ll be tough to beat and test the Florida secondary in a different way than Utah did.

Keep an eye on who has the better numbers on Saturday. They may end up being the SEC Offensive Player of the Week.

How much Lorenzo Lingard plays

Stephen M. Dowell/Orlando Sentinel via AP

[autotag]Lorenzo Lingard[/autotag] was added to the depth chart this week as the fourth-string running back. That could mean that Napier is now comfortable inserting him into in-game action after leaving him off the week one listing and giving him zero carries.

All three running backs listed on last week’s depth chart — [autotag]Nay’Quan Wright[/autotag], [autotag]Montrel Johnson[/autotag] and [autotag]Trevor Etienne[/autotag] — saw five or more carries, so it will be interesting to see where Lingard fits in.

Can Florida take advantage of Kentucky's suspensions?

Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Kentucky will be down starting running back Christian Rodriguez Jr. on Saturday. He’s suspended from the team to start the season following legal issues over the offseason. Last year, he led the rushing attack for Kentucky against Florida with 99 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries.

Kavosiey Smoke should step into the starting role once again, but he wasn’t great in week one. Florida needs to take advantage of a weak run game to get to a poignant passing attack.

Linebacker Jordan Wright was the other suspension worth noting, but he recently returned to the team, according to the Courier Journal.

Fixing the problems on D

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports.

[autotag]Amari Burney[/autotag] might have made the play of the night last Saturday when he intercepted Utah’s Cameron Rising to secure the Florida win, but he struggled to contain tight end Brant Kuithe for most of the night. Kuithe is a good tight end that’s going to get yards on any defense, but his nine receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown is an area of concern any way you look at it.

Napier knows it and it’s likely one of the things he addressed over the week with the team. Will Levis is too good of a quarterback to ignore a hole in the defense like that. The Wildcats’ tight ends combined for just three receptions and 17 yards last week against Miami, but they’ll be looking for more on Saturday.

This should also be a bigger test for the defensive backs, too. If Levis doesn’t like the looks he gets with the tight ends, he’ll stick to what he knows and try to outplay the corners and safeties. That’s a good way to force a mistake.

Cleaning up penalties

Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Penalties were an issue from the get-go in week one for Florida. The first flag of the year came on the opening kickoff and six more were called for a combined total of 38 yards. It could have been worse, but Napier’s standard is one penalty per 30 plays.

False starts killed more than one drive against the Utes, and the Gators can’t afford that against the Wildcats. To beat Kentucky convincingly, Florida needs to play a cleaner game all around.

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