JOE COX: Kentucky Is Not The Same Old Team; Florida Is Not The Same Either
Two games into the 2015 season, it is becoming apparent that Kentucky football has the opportunity to slay some old demons.
Last week, it was UK’s decade-long SEC road losing streak (and but for a seven-point win at Louisville in September 2010, you could drop SEC from that sentence). Kentucky’s 26-22 win at South Carolina wasn’t pretty, but it was remarkable. Spurrier had lost to Kentucky once in his career, but now has added two consecutive defeats against Mark Stoops.
This Saturday, Florida invades Commonwealth Stadium. And if, in the words of new Gator coach Jim McElwain, this isn’t the same old Kentucky, it’s not the same old Florida either. Coaching changes, a lack of depth, and a home struggle last weekend against East Carolina have many wondering if the Gators and their 28-game winning streak against UK will be the next to fall at the hands of Stoops’s Troops.
Given the up-and-down nature of the SEC, the next two weeks could leave UK hoping for six wins or shooting for eight or nine (and being a factor in the race for the SEC East). But before we get to all of that, let’s look back at an historic win at South Carolina.
Cornerback Chris Westry is not playing like a guy in his first month of college football. He had a sack on a corner blitz and the game-delivering interception. He is young, he still occasionally gets too physical with receivers and draws a flag, but Westry has the makings of a guy who can be an All-American type player at UK, if he continues to develop.
Kentucky’s entire defense draws praise for their red zone work. South Carolina journeyed into the UK red zone five times (once after a Towles interception was returned to the UK 2 yard line). They allowed one touchdown (that 2 yard possession), three made field goals, and a missed field goal. To hold Spurrier’s offense to sixteen points in five trips to the red zone was absolutely the difference in this game. Bonus to freshman Denzil Ware for scoring a two-point conversion himself!
“Boom” Williams had a second straight 100 yard game and is a real threat to be UK’s first 1000 yard back since Rafael Little. He should probably share the game ball with Jojo Kemp, who is also doing a great job out of the backfield.
The biggest problem is that twice in two weeks, UK had third quarter/fourth quarter offensive meltdowns. In both cases, a great run-oriented drive late pulled the fat out of the fire, but UK is flirting with danger. The Wildcats have played about 5 quarters of great football this season, and about two awful ones that have nearly negated the good. Good SEC teams don’t shoot themselves in the foot.
Landon Foster, who is usually rock-solid, had a fairly bad game punting the ball, averaging just 36.4 yards per kick. It’s safe to assume that this was partially a strategic matter, as USC’s Pharoah Cooper’s big-play ability probably led to shorter, safer punts. But Foster can be sharper, and will need to be.
UK can’t put the ball on the ground three times and expect to be lucky enough to recover all three again. Ball security matters!
WHERE ARE WE—SEC POWER RANKINGS
After a wild, crazy week, here goes nothing.
1. Alabama (2-0) They’re good, but we didn’t need MTSU to tell us that. 2. Georgia (2-0) How far Georgia goes will depend on their QB play. Nick Chubb is a great back, but UGA can’t be a one-trick pony. 3. Ole Miss (2-0) Are they that good? We’ll find out Saturday when they go to Alabama. 4. Texas A&M (2-0) The best kind of good—the sneaky, under-the-radar kind. 5. LSU (1-0) Didn’t make it look pretty, but got a win. Les Miles is pretty good at that. 6. Auburn (2-0) The talent is there, but these guys are perilously close to being the conference’s underachievers. 7. Arkansas (1-1) They’re better than they showed, but hard to take a team too serious when they lose to Toledo. 8. Missouri (2-0) See No. 7, but substitute “almost lose” for “lose” and “Arkansas State” for “Toledo.” 9. Tennessee (1-1) Sagging morale on Rocky Top. Modern UT football has Mississippi State’s trophy case and Alabama’s sense of entitlement. 10. Kentucky (2-0) Could UK actually be No. 6 or 7? Sure could. Let’s see where we stand after Saturday. 11. Mississippi State (1-1) Prescott may get beat to death this season. He’ll keep the competitive, but there’s not much else. 12. Florida (2-0) See No. 10, but change “UK” to “UF”. 13. South Carolina (1-1) Charlie Strong rumors going around. 14. Vanderbilt (0-2) It’s back to old school Vandy. Solid but beaten-down defense and no offense.
WHERE ARE WE GOING
Florida comes to town Saturday night in an environment that will be as electric as any in UK football since at least late last decade.
Florida plays two QBs, freshman Will Grier and sophomore Treon Harris. Stoops observed his press conference that the presence of either won’t change the way UK defends Florida. Florida has been fairly run heavy in the first two games (probably helped that the first was a blowout), and they average a solid, but unspectacular 4.9 yards per carry. All-world receiver Demarcus Robertson, who owned the UK secondary last year, has 11 catches for just 89 yards in two games.
Defensively, Florida has allowed just 1.2 yards per carry in two games. They have five QB sacks in two games, led by NT Joey Ivie with three. If corner Vernon Hargreaves III is healthy enough to play (he didn’t last week and is questionable this week), he boosts their pass coverage, which was dinged pretty thoroughly by East Carolina in his absence.
The odds line hangs around a field goal in Florida’s favor. There have been times in recent years when UK had a puncher’s chance in this game, but couldn’t quite pull it off. This year, it’s an even better chance. Florida is talented, but green, and if UK can avoid the kind of horrible starts which seem to plague them in this 28 year losing streak, they could very well end Saturday night 3-0.
Before the season, I hoped against reason that UK would end this streak. I see no reason to change my tune. UK 31, Florida 24
MY OTHER (COMPLETELY CLUELESS) SEC PREDICTIONS
Close didn’t count, so my predicted 52-7 Auburn win didn’t hurt me. Arkansas losing to Toledo did. And you can mail me a slice of crow for picking USC over UK. Still, I’ll take 9-2 for the week, which makes me 21-3 for the year.
Week Three Predictions:
Missouri 28, UConn 21 Texas A&M 42, Nevada 17 Auburn 31, LSU 27 Vanderbilt 24, Austin Peay 3 Mississippi State 45, Northwestern State 10 Georgia 38, South Carolina 20 Tennessee 52, Western Carolina 7 Arkansas 38, Texas Tech 35 Kentucky 31, Florida 24 Alabama 38, Ole Miss 24
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County, and has written four books involving UK sports, with the newest, The Kentucky Wildcat Fans’ Bucket List (with Ryan Clark) due on November 1, 2015. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org