Kentucky defense is preparing for strong Florida ground attack

On3 imageby:Adam Luckett09/27/23


Kentucky Wildcats Recruiting INTEL: Big Visit Weekend as Florida Gators Come to Town!! | UK Football

Billy Napier‘s offense is not difficult to figure out. The play-calling head coach has a run-first philosophy that wants to hammer the rock and then hit defense with play-action passes. Florida will use condensed formations, two tight end sets, and is not afraid to play bully ball.

Saturday will be a different challenge for the Kentucky defense. Defensive coordinator Brad White took the podium on Wednesday evening to discuss the challenges the Gators will bring to Kroger Field in Week 5. The Wildcats must be ready to stop the run.

Talented run team

Florida has a two-headed attack in the running game. This season, the Gators do not have a true run threat at quarterback and rely on their top two tailbacks to make things happen on the ground. Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson Jr. will provide a challenge to the Kentucky defense.

“The first place you go is the running backs. 7 (Etienne) and 2 (Johnson) are as good as you’ll find in this league,” White told the media. “Etienne with his burst and 2 with his strength, really pose a huge issue, and they’re really patient. They set up their blocks.”

Etienne and Johnson have combined to rush for 135 yards per game on 23.7 attempts. Florida will commit to the run early. Kentucky must get off blocks and make tackles against a pair of talented tailbacks.

“It’s just a really balanced football team that starts with the run to set up the pass,” White said.

Defensive line will be challenged

Kentucky’s defensive line has played good football through the first 16 quarters this season. Deone Walker is a bonafide first-team All-SEC performer at defensive tackle and he’s been surrounded by quality players. This group has done a good job of fitting the run to this point, but Saturday will be a different challenge.

Florida will get into bigger sets and challenge Kentucky’s big guys at the point of attack.

“We gotta play strong up front. We gotta play physical. We talked about the light boxes last week, you can’t in this one. You’re going to have to have as many bodies in there and you’re going to have to rally tackle,” White told reporters. “They can run through blocks, so we gotta tackle well. We gotta run through blocks. We gotta be able to strike and separate. We gotta do all the fundamental things.”

There will be some big boy football in a phone booth played on Saturday afternoon in Lexington.

Graham Mertz looks comfortable

Wisconsin transfer quarterback Graham Mertz has exceeded expectations to this point in the season. The redshirt senior is getting the football out quickly and keeping Florida’s offense ahead of the chains. Mertz isn’t making a ton of flashy plays but he’s doing what the scheme asks him.

Kentucky must find a way to get the pocket passer off schedule in this weekend’s matchup.

“I think it’s a system that he’s comfortable with,” White said about Mertz. “He looks very comfortable operating it. We have to try and create a little bit of uncomfort. We gotta make it uncomfortable for him and make him operate in sort of a dirty pocket.”

The results have been disastrous when Mertz has had to throw the ball over 30 times in his career. Kentucky’s top goal this week will be to make the former blue-chip quarterback beat them by throwing the football and not by handing the ball to Florida’s tailbacks.

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