Florida has its chance for revenge a year after Kentucky marched into Gainesville and ended its 31-year losing streak to UF with a resounding 27-16 victory.
The No. 9 Gators will meet undefeated Kentucky in Lexington, Kentucky, Saturday night at 7. The matchup is UF’s first SEC game and first true road test of the season.
While many Florida fans may be looking for their absolution, the team (2-0) isn’t worried about exacting payback on the Wildcats because of last year’s loss.
“Last year was last year,” defensive coordinator Todd Grantham said. “That doesn’t affect this year.”
The sentiment was echoed by running back Malik Davis.
“The past is the past,” Davis said. “It’s not revenge; we’re treating it like every other game.”
Although the Gators are not treating this game differently, they will have to overcome some added adversity: Two of their most dynamic playmakers – defensive back C.J. Henderson and athlete Kadarius Toney – will likely miss the game with ankle and shoulder injuries, respectively.
Kentucky (2-0) will have to overcome a crucial injury of its own. Quarterback Terry Wilson – who led UK to its first 10-win campaign in more than 40 years in 2018 – is out for the season with a torn patellar tendon in his left knee, which he suffered in the third quarter of last week’s 38-17 win over Eastern Michigan.
Starting in Wilson’s place will be Sawyer Smith. The graduate transfer, a Florida native, was 144 for 229 with 1,669 yards, 14 touchdowns and six interceptions last year in seven starts for Troy. He has never started against a Power 5 defense.
Grantham still isn’t taking Smith lightly.
“He’s a competitor, he knows where to distribute the ball,” Grantham said. “I fully expect him to run their offense and do the things that they’ve done to win the games they’ve won the past two years.”
Kentucky will also have to replace the production of Josh Allen and Benny Snell Jr., who were both drafted into the NFL, to replicate its success against Florida. Snell Jr. ran for 175 yards against UF last year and Allen registered five tackles, a sack and a forced fumble.
Expect the Wildcats, who are averaging over 200 yards on the ground per game this year, to lean even more heavily on running backs Kavosiey Smoke and Asim Rose against UF because of the inexperience at the quarterback position.
Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks will have to avoid a repeat of his struggles against Kentucky last year for UF to continue its perfect start to the season – he was just 17 for 38 with 232 yards, two touchdowns, an interception and a lost fumble in last season’s contest.
This year, Franks won’t have to contest with safety Darius West, who graduated in December. West was a thorn in Florida’s side last year, intercepting a pass and recording eight tackles. However, Kentucky returns some talent on defense, including linebacker Kash Daniel, who racked up 11 tackles last year and finished tied for 24th in the SEC with 6.3 tackles per game.
“They’re a sound team, they got a pretty good defense,” Davis said. “We’re ready.”
Follow Sam Campisano on Twitter @samcampisano. Contact him at [email protected]