Photo courtesy of Florida athletics
After opening SEC play with a hard-fought loss to No. 1 Alabama and an impressive win over Tennessee, Florida will hit the road for the first time in conference play as it visits unbeaten Kentucky.
The Wildcats are 4-0, but have been unimpressive in recent wins over Chattanooga and South Carolina. At 3-1, Florida arrives as the No. 10 team in the country.
Early on this season, there was clamoring for Anthony Richardson to step in as the starting quarterback for Florida after an incredible start. Last week however, Emory Jones had a career-day with 353 total yards and two touchdown passes. The Gators lead the SEC and rank third nationally in rushing yards per game.
In addition to Jones and Richardson, running backs Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce power the potent ground attack. Out wide, Jacob Copeland can stretch a defense while Rick Wells is more of a possession receiver.
While Florida leads the SEC in rushing, Kentucky has also come to rely on running back Chris Rodriguez and the ground attack. Quarterback Will Levis started the season strong, but has struggled in recent weeks. Wan’Dale Robinson and Josh Ali are outstanding receivers, but the Wildcats would be best served to establish the run on Saturday in Lexington.
It’s not surprising for a Mark Stoops-coached team, but Kentucky is one of the best defenses in the SEC. Only Georgia allows fewer yards per game. Linebackers DeAndre Square and J.J. Weaver are two players to watch as they lead the team in tackles and sacks, respectively. It should be noted that Florida will be the toughest offense that Kentucky has faced so far.
For Florida, senior Zachary Carter has emerged as one of the best pass rushers in the SEC. He ranks second in the conference with four sacks. In the secondary, cornerback Kaiir Elam is one of the best in the country. Elam has an interception, but is rarely targeted.
Florida had won 31 straight in the series before the Wildcats broke through in 2018 in Gainesville. Florida has won the last two in the series, including a 29-21 comeback victory in its last trip to Lexington in 2019. Saturday’s contest at Kroger Field begins at 6 p.m. ET and airs on ESPN.
Prediction: Florida 27, Kentucky 17
Other Games Across the State
Virginia (2-2) at Miami (2-2)
Thursday, Sept. 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN)
After picking up a 69-0 win last week, Miami looks to get over .500 for the first time this season. Quarterback D’Eriq King is questionable for Miami, which could lead to Tyler Van Dyke making another start. Virginia will try to avoid becoming the first ACC team to start 0-3 in conference play this season.
Prediction: Miami 31, Virginia 29
Florida International (1-3) at Florida Atlantic (2-2)
Saturday, Oct. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET (Stadium)
Florida International and Florida Atlantic are each coming off disheartening road losses as they meet for the annual “Shula Bowl”. FAU has won the last four meetings and dominated the all-time series. After a winless campaign in 2020 however, the Golden Panthers appear to be much improved.
Prediction: Florida Atlantic 20, Florida International 17
Syracuse (3-1) at Florida State (0-4)
Saturday, Oct. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET (ACC Network)
It’s tough to believe, but Florida State is the last winless team in the ACC. The Seminoles fought valiantly last week in a 31-23 loss to Louisville. Syracuse owns the ACC’s leading rusher in Sean Tucker and its leader in tackles for loss in Cody Roscoe.
Prediction: Florida State 24, Syracuse 20
UCF (2-1) at Navy (0-3)
Saturday, Oct. 2 at 3:30 p.m. ET (CBS Sports Network)
UCF will be without quarterback Dillon Gabriel for the remainder of the season as it gets set to open American Athletic Conference play at Navy. The Midshipmen are the last remaining winless team in the AAC. UCF won the prior two meetings in the series.
Prediction: UCF 45, Navy 20
South Florida (1-3) at SMU (4-0)
Saturday, Oct. 2 at 4 p.m. ET (ESPNU)
South Florida has shown improvement over the last two weeks, beating Florida A&M and hanging tough with BYU. The Bulls now face an SMU team that can put up points. USF holds the all-time edge in the series, 3-2.
Prediction: SMU 38, South Florida 22
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3) at Cincinnati Bengals (2-1)
Thursday, Sept. 30 at 8:20 p.m. ET (NFL Network)
The last time that quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence and Joe Burrow met on the field was for the 2020 College Football Playoff National Championship. Then at LSU, Burrow’s Tigers beat Lawrence’s Clemson Tigers, 42-25. Burrow now leads Cincinnati against Lawrence and Jacksonville. The Bengals will look for their best 4-game start since 2018.
Prediction: Cincinnati 34, Jacksonville 17
Indianapolis Colts (0-3) at Miami Dolphins (1-2)
Sunday, Oct. 3 at 1 p.m. ET (CBS)
Miami Dolphins’ quarterback Jacoby Brissett will face his former team on Sunday. Miami looks for its first home win against an Indianapolis team looking for its first win. This will be the first meeting between the teams in South Florida since 2015.
Prediction: Miami 20, Indianapolis 17
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-1) at New England Patriots (1-2)
Sunday, Oct. 3 at 8:20 p.m. ET (NBC)
A 6-time champion with the New England Patriots, Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ quarterback Tom Brady will make his return to Gillette Stadium for a prime time showdown. Tampa Bay is coming off its first loss of the season. This will be Patriots’ rookie quarterback Mac Jones’ first start in prime time.
Prediction: Tampa Bay 31, New England 19
Mike Ferguson is the managing editor for Fifth Quarter. Be sure to follow Mike on Twitter at @MikeWFerguson. Follow all of Mike’s work by liking his Facebook page.