Date with Gators is UK’s defining moment

Published 8:51 am Thursday, September 8, 2022

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Kentucky Today

Football analysts say the biggest improvement any team makes all season is from Game 1 to Game 2.

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Kentucky is going to need that to be true.

The Cats are going to The Swamp on Saturday after defeating Miami of Ohio, 37-13, at Kroger Field. It was a largely uneven performance, with some red flags showing among the sea of blue. There was a lot to like too with some playmaking receivers in Tavian Robinson, Barion Brown and Dane Key among them. But there were concerns too.

Will Levis was sacked four times and hurried a few more against the Redhawks who are plenty good for the Mid-American Conference but hardly as good as what Kentucky is going to see Saturday.

During the preseason hype of predicting 10-2 and 11-1 seasons for Kentucky, the game with the Gators was hardly mentioned. But Florida defeated seventh-ranked Utah, 29-26 on Saturday, sending notice that you better not forget about the Gators.

I’m sure Kentucky’s coaching staff, which has not been part of the Hype Machine, understands this will be no easy game and, truth to be told, may have held back a few wrinkles. Let’s hope so. This is game where Kentucky’s hype is on full display for the nation, a 7:30 night game on ESPN. The nation will be tuning in to watch two high-profile quarterbacks – Levis and Florida’s Anthony Richardson – battling on the field. The key to the game may well be keeping Kentucky’s quarterback upright.

Levis and Richardson are already receiving NFL hype, with Sports Illustrated projecting Levis going No. 7 and Richardson No. 9 in the NFL draft. Levis was average, by his standards, although he threw for 303 yards and three touchdowns in the opener. Richardson was a double-threat, passing for 168 yards and rushing for 106 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 9.6 yards per carry.

Levis is big and strong, and clearly one of the best quarterbacks in the country, but the offensive line must protect him. It’s a Big Blue Wall on training wheels but they need to get them off in a hurry.

The running game was practically non-existent because Miami stuffed the box and used twists and stunts to keep pressure on Levis. Kentucky managed only 50 yards on 26 carries and certainly missed battering ram running back Chris Rodriguez, who sat out the game for the start of a suspension that nobody knows how long will last.

If Rodriguez is still sidelined on Saturday, that could clearly affect the game’s outcome.

Kentucky’s mental edge is good though since the Cats are 2-2 in the last four meetings with the Gators. They know it’s not impossible to win at The Swamp because they’ve done it.

It’s hard to call a Game 2 a must win but this feels like it if the Cats are to achieve their lofty expectations. How good the Cats will be remains a mystery but there’s certainly room for improvement and that improvement better come fast.

You can bet Florida has this game circled even if Kentucky has not. A loss on Saturday would put the Cats back in the middle of the pack in the SEC East, wondering what might have been, while a victory keeps those dreams alive of the November showdown at Kroger Field with Georgia for a shot at a division championship.

Kentucky did not look like that kind of team in Week 1 while Georgia looked every bit the team capable of defending not only the SEC crown but also the national championship while devouring 11th-ranked Oregon.

This week’s game, while early in the season, will be a defining one for Kentucky and Florida. Buckle up. It should be a good one.