In this edition of Cats Illustrated's "Four Downs," we take a closer look at the key matchups to watch in Saturday's game at Kroger Field.
Kim Clement/USA Today
1. KENTUCKY O-LINE vs. FLORIDA D-LINE
UK head coach Mark Stoops firmly believes that the winner of this game is the team controls the line of scrimmage and emerges with the bigger number in the rushing column. The pregame analytics suggest this bodes well for the Cats. Running the ball and stopping the run have been their strengths to date, while both have been a weakness for the Gators. Florida was pushed around by both Michigan and Tennessee, allowing close to 5 yards per carry and 400 yards between the two games. If Kentucky is getting a good push in the first quarter, I would take that as a sign that it may be able to play ball control in a similar fashion to the South Carolina game. If the Gators are shutting it down early, that might indicate that the Cats haven't faced this level of athlete to date and may need to lean more on Stephen Johnson to get the job done. Keep an eye on Florida's Cece Jefferson, a junior defensive end and former high school All-American, and Jachai Polite working against UK tackles Landon Young and Kyle Meadows.
2. KENTUCKY CORNERS vs. FLORIDA RECEIVERS
The Gators have struggled to cap drives with points this season but, as Tennessee learned, quarterback Feleipe Franks has an extremely dangerous right arm. The redshirt freshman threw a perfect 63-yard strike to receiver Tyrie Cleveland to beat the Vols as time expired last week at The Swamp. There was a tendency to call it a "Hail Mary" but when you go back and look at the play, the only thing that made it one was the time element. Other than that, it was a beautiful throw over the top of some suspect defense by Tennessee. Cleveland, Josh Hammond and Kadarius Toney are all good tests for UK's long, athletic cornerbacks. How Derrick Baity (the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week) and Chris Westry fare against them will go a long way toward determining the Cats' fate. Eliminating "explosive plays" has been a focus of UK's defensive preparation this week.
3. C.J. CONRAD vs. FLORIDA LINEBACKERS
With the style of defense that the Gators employ and their aggressive nature, Conrad could be poised for a huge game. Florida is fairly inexperienced in the linebacker corps and doesn't match up particularly well with the size of Conrad (or UK's other tight ends, for that matter). Michigan's Nick Eubanks caught a pair of passes for 61 yards and Sean McKeon added three receptions for 25 yards in the Wolverines' 33-17 win over the Gators. Tennessee's Ethan Wolfe had three catches for 37 yards and a touchdown against Florida last week. It's going to be an area the Cats can exploit if Johnson can continue the improved accuracy on short-to-intermediate passes he has displayed all season.
4. THE CATS vs. THEMSELVES
Although the UK staff and players tried their best to whistle the "just another game" tune this week, it's impossible to avoid the buzz around Lexington. It's not just another game. It's a golden opportunity for Stoops & Co. to put an end to one of the most embarrassing losing streaks in the history of college football. For the first time in a long time -- perhaps since this skid began -- Kentucky is on relatively even terms with Florida when it comes to talent among the starters in this game. That's why it's critically important for the Cats to play assignment football in this one. The tendency is for players to get a little too jacked up for a game like this and try to do more than they are supposed to do. When that happens, little mistakes turn into big problems.