Sometimes it’s not how you win, it just matters that you get the victory. That is how we will look at the Gators 28-27 win over Kentucky. Here is the Gator report card:
Rushing Offense: B-
The rushing attack against the Wildcats was consistent without being particularly explosive. If you take the 36 yard run by Kadarius Toney out of the equation then the Gators best run of the day went for just 11 yards. Malik Davis got the bulk of the carries – something that most Florida fans will be happy with – but he struggled to break anything big against a very good Kentucky defensive front and he only managed 93 yards on 21 carries.
In many ways, the running game is still struggling because teams just aren’t that scared of the Gators ability to pass the ball. All in all the Gators rushed for 186 yards and a couple of scores on 36 carries, but all too often the run game was stopped when the Gators needed a big first down.
Passing Offense: C
The passing offense was good enough for the Gators to win, but only just and it took a quarterback change to make it happen. Taking away a 50-yard completion by freshman Toney – his only attempt of the game – Feleipe Franks and Luke Del Rio combined to complete 16-of-26 passes for 159 yards, with two touchdowns and an interception.
This is a passing offense that lacks any kind of explosiveness outside of wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland and the offensive line is struggling to put things together. Franks was replaced by Del Rio with the Gators down 24-14 and immediately threw an interception. To his credit, Del Rio powered on through his initial struggles and it was with him at the helm that the Gators were able to get back into the game and score the winning touchdown with a late fourth-quarter drive. It will be interesting to see what this means for the quarterback picture moving forwards.
Rushing Defense: B
The Florida rushing defense was good against Kentucky. The Wildcats rushed for barely more than three yards per carry as they put up 120 yards on 32 rushes. Sihiem King was the best rusher on the day for the Wildcats as he went for 64 yards on five carries, but almost half those yards came on a single 30-yard burst. The Gators will be most impressed with the fact that Kentucky failed to score a rushing touchdown in the game.
The stout rushing defense was also a huge reason why Kentucky was a miserable 1-of-10 on third down in this game. That 10% third down conversion rate is a big reason why Florida was even in the game in the fourth quarter given how inept the offense had been to that point.
Passing Defense: C+
The passing defense did just enough in this one. Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson passed for just a hair under 200 yards and three touchdowns as the Wildcats seemed to figure out early how to attack the Florida defense. They did it with a balanced passing attack that featured eight different players catching the ball and none with more than four receptions. What they did have was no less than five players catching passes of 20 yards or more, spreading out the Gators defense and attacking the weak spots.
The defense though was active behind the line of scrimmage. The Gators had four sacks, seven tackles for a loss, and a quarterback hurry as they pressured Johnson into missing a few too many of his throws. Cece Jefferson was the catalyst in this attack as he picked up a sack and a half.
Special Teams: B-
The special teams unit gets a B- for winning the field position battle. Punter Johnny Townsend was just ridiculous. He had five punts go for 261 yards with a long punt of 61 yards. Eddy Pinero didn’t have a field goal attempt, but he was perfect on his extra point shots. The one big mistake on special teams was when the Gators allowed Kentucky punt returner Charles Walker to return one of Townsend’s bombs 52 yards. The problem with a big-legged punter is that they can sometimes outkick their coverage and this is something Florida needs to work to address.
You have to give Jim McElwain a very solid grade here because his decision to replace Franks with Del Rio really did change the game. The 11 point swing after he entered the game was enough for Florida to win, but – and it is a big but – the Gators still have way more questions than answers coming from their quarterback position. Florida had to escape a Kentucky team that hasn’t beaten them in a generation and the Gators still have to face the other powerhouses (namely Georgia) in the East this season.