JOE COX: More UK, SEC Observations and Predictions; Will Wildcats Upset Florida?
By Joe Cox
Yawn. The Kentucky Wildcats won by 17 points on Saturday. The weird thing about that sentence is that it isn’t “THE KENTUCKY WILDCATS WON BY 17 POINTS ON SATURDAY!!!!” But it just wasn’t. The game was ultimately more remarkable for the fact that it wasn’t particularly exciting than for the fact that in many ways, it was a much more impressive and significant performance than the bread and circus show from Week One’s gobsmacking of UT-Martin. Kentucky took the ball, drove down and scored a touchdown, got a three and out from Ohio, drove down and scored another touchdown. And then, it was a 6-3 game over the remaining 53 minutes of play.
I did enjoy Mark Stoops’s comment that he didn’t want his players to be down over a win. And indeed, if a first-and-goal at the two is converted and if TE Steven Borden doesn’t drop a wide-open touchdown pass, it’s a 34-3 win with enough fireworks to impress to crowd.
That said, it wasn’t a 34-3 win. And those looks won’t be there against Florida on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. In the Swamp, a first-and-goal at the 2 better be seven points. If Towles can find time to throw and an open receiver to throw it to, then he better catch it. That’s all there is to it. Florida has won 27 straight games in the series, the longest such streak in FBS football. UK last won in the Swamp in 1979, the year before I was born. What’s worse is that unlike the lengthy losing streak to UT, where UK would snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, UK has generally been miles away from victory against the Gators. In my lifetime, not only has UK not won in the Swamp, but they’ve only held the game within 14 points only five times, with only one of those times coming since 1991.
That said, this Wildcat team isn’t the laughingstock of the SEC anymore… and Florida is coming off a 4-8 season with a coach who is coaching on about as hot of a seat as is humanly possible. If Will Muschamp and the Gators lose on Saturday, he might as well start listing his house for sale. On the other hand, Kentucky has almost nothing to lose. And that trend makes it almost understandable that the optimists are wondering if the ‘Cats just might shock the world.
But before we get to where we’re going, let’s talk about where we’ve been.
With Javess Blue sidelined by injury and fellow receivers Jeff Badet and Alex Montgomery still on the shelf, Ryan Timmons played some big-time football on Saturday. Timmons caught ten of Patrick Towles’s 17 completions in the game, for a total of 95 yards. The receiving corps needs an alpha dog, and the sophomore looks like he could be the man.
If he’s not, Dorian Baker might get there. The big freshman stretched a (questionable) touchdown over the goal line, hauled in another pass down to the Ohio 2, and made perhaps the play of the game when he peeled back to absolutely blast a linebacker who was trying to catch up with Towles on a scramble into West Virginia somewhere. Got to love the hustle and the attitude.
On the defensive side of things, linebacker Khalid Henderson put a nice game together with five tackles, a fumble recovery, and a crucial 4th-and-short pass breakup of Ohio’s first strong drive. Henderson was thought to be in danger of losing his job to JUCO Ryan Flannigan, but he has really stepped up his production.
Austin MacGinnis has missed three field goals this season, two of them coming from 35 yards or closer on Saturday. The freshman has a big leg, as he tied a school record with a 53 yard kick, but this Kentucky team can’t leave points on the board from here out. Joe Mansour missed just two field goals all season last year. If McGinnis can’t get more consistent from close range, Stoops needs to find someone who can.
Offensive line play was hit and miss. While the ‘Cats averaged a solid 4.5 yards per carry, Towles was sacked five times, and few to none were the result of him holding the ball too long. Tackle Darrian Miller was back, but guard Zack West was held out with a neck injury, which may sideline him this weekend and perhaps beyond.
Bud Dupree showed signs of life, with three tackles, a pass break up and a tackle for loss, but neither Dupree nor Za’Darius Smith have provided the kind of productivity which many expected from them. Kentucky will have to get in Jeff Driskell’s face on Saturday, and either or both of Smith and Dupree could really help.
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
I saw a lot less football this week than last, but here’s what I do know.
1. Alabama (2-0) Coker will probably unseat Sims at QB sooner or later, but both looked pretty good in a drubbing of FAU. Bigger tests are coming.
2. Georgia (1-0) Not going to drop Georgia on a bye week. A big chance for the Bulldogs to prove that they are who I think they are this Saturday.
3. Auburn (2-0) They scored 38 in the first half and almost ended up with three 100 yard rushers. That said, San Jose State isn’t making anybody forget the Seattle Seahawks.
4. Texas A&M (2-0) A&M got delayed by lightning for a couple of hours and then won by 70. The only way to stop Kenny Hill so far is to get far enough behind that his coach sits him.
5. LSU (2-0) 584 total yards against Sam Houston State doesn’t make me forget that this team has no quarterback. Not even close to one.
6. Ole Miss (2-0) Ole Miss might be that good. Vanderbilt probably is that bad. Still, a 38 point win in a league game says something. We’ll see exactly what soon.
7. Florida (1-0) Want to hear something funny? This was Florida’s first win in 11 months. That said, they’ve got weapons. Plenty of them.
8. Missouri (2-0) I like Maty Mauk. Kid’s probably the best QB in the league not named Kenny Hill. That said, the Tigers gave up 400 yards to Toledo. Not going to end up in the top half of the power rankings (or the SEC) by doing that.
9. Tennessee (2-0) As good as UT was in week one, they were pretty pedestrian here. Outgained a Sun Belt team by just 82 yards and played even in turnovers. Saturday is a chance to prove me wrong and move up the list. Or to show how much farther Butch Jones has to go.
10. Mississippi State (2-0) I like this team, but UAB outgained them and threw for 435 yards on Saturday. Good luck against teams in the top half of the league with that kind of pass defense.
11. Kentucky (2-0) Maybe it’s better than we thought. We’ll find out Saturday.
12. South Carolina (1-1) They won, but in about the most uninspiring way possible, as SC was outgained again, this time by East Carolina. Saturday is a shot at redemption that looks highly unlikely from here.
13. Arkansas (1-1) 684 yards is a lot. If Arkansas was in the east, I’d probably have them where Missouri or Tennessee are. But they’re not, so there’s just not many wins on the board.
14. Vanderbilt (0-2) Wake me up when it’s over.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
This weekend, the ‘Cats head to the Swamp and into the land of big boy football. The Gators were rained out in Week 1, and won 65-0 last week against Eastern Michigan. Of course, Florida was 4-8 last season and head coach Will Muschamp is kind of a punching bag at the moment.
Florida ran and threw the ball all over EMU. Jeff Driskel is Florida’s starting QB and he was 31 of 45 for 248 yards and a score. 5.5 yards per pass attempt shows how little confidence Florida has in Driskel to wing the ball all over the field. He’ll play it conservative against Kentucky. Three different Florida backs managed 60+ yards in week one and Florida averaged 6.6 yards per carry.
The Gators made some big plays defensively, forcing four fumbles and a pick. Linebacker Nieron Ball had two QB sacks and a forced fumble to go with six tackles. Florida held EMU to 2.4 yards per carry and allowed only seven first downs in the game. One surprising note is that the Gators had ten penalties for 100 yards in the opener.
Kentucky has been listed as a 17-point underdog, which considering the horrible history of this series sounds about right. With Zach West and Javess Blue unlikely to play and Braylon Heard not a certainty, Kentucky could be stuck with walk-ons playing at Florida. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the ‘Cats hang around for a half or so. In 2006, the win that turned Brooks’s fortune at UK around was over Georgia. There are some who think Florida is likewise ripe for an upset. But two things to note: UK beat that Georgia team at home, and UK was a bit farther down the rebuilding line than this team.
Florida 35, UK 14.
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
Last week, I was 11-0, which sounds impressive, but isn’t. My highlight was that I predicted SC over ECU 31-20, and the final was 33-23. My worst call? Probably Mizzou 24-13 over Toledo. It ended up 49-24.
Missouri 41, UCF 35
Vandy 24, UMass 13
Arkansas 35, Texas Tech 34
Georgia 41, South Carolina 21
Ole Miss 38, La-Lafayette 21
Miss. State 45, South Alabama 7
Alabama 49, Southern Miss. 0
LSU 38, UL-Monroe 17
Florida 35, Kentucky 14
Oklahoma 45, Tennessee 20
Texas A&M 55, Rice 13