3 Kentucky players to watch against Florida

On3 imageby:Adam Luckett09/27/23


Nick Roush on QBs: Devin Leary Vs Florida, Graham Mertz Vs Kentucky

Kentucky’s SEC home opener has arrived in Week 5, and the upcoming matchup is a big one. Billy Napier is bringing his Florida team to Lexington with some momentum after a three-game home winning streak highlighted by a big Week 3 victory over Tennessee. The Gators are now looking to knock off Kentucky to make their case as Georgia’s top competition in the SEC East.

The Wildcats will look to end the good times in Florida to set up a top-25 clash next Saturday night in Athens. There is an SEC game with stakes coming to Kroger Field. You buy season tickets and are a fan for ball games like this one.

Kentucky is currently a slim favorite out in Las Vegas proving that this matchup is truly a toss-up contest. What Wildcats need to play well for the home team to leave the turf at Kroger Field victorious? We’re diving into that right now.

Did Kentucky pick the right QB?

You cannot hide from the biggest storyline this week. Kentucky hosted both Devin Leary and Graham Mertz for an official visit in December. The Wildcats were considered the favorite in each recruitment. The top choice ended up being Leary and that led to Mertz committing to Florida just a couple of days later.

Now we’ll get to see if Leary can outplay Mertz in a head-to-head matchup.

Through four games, there has been some up-and-down play from Kentucky’s new QB1. Leary has a high interception rate (4.1%) but ranks No. 10 nationally in completions of 20-plus yards (19). The super senior has been hot and cold with some good highs and some bad lows. Kentucky cannot afford the latter on Saturday.

Florida’s defense enters the game ranked No. 2 in rushing success rate and No. 22 in yards per rush allowed. Utah needed 30 carries to grind out over 100 yards in Week 1, and Tennessee rushed for a season-low 100 yards on 3.3 yards per rush in Week 3. The Gators have an active and efficient front seven. Kentucky’s explosive ground game might pop a few chunk runs, but overall, it will be difficult to stay ahead of the chains on Saturday. The Wildcats are going to need a strong performance from the passing game.

Leary is the best quarterback that Florida has seen to this point. Defensive coordinator Austin Armstrong has an aggressive, pressure-heavy system that can be susceptible to big plays.

Florida has allowed five completions of 30-plus yards in four games despite playing some bad passing offenses. The Gators start a true freshman at safety and have a former outside cornerback playing nickel. Kentucky needs Leary to carve up this secondary for the offense to consistently move the football.

Since becoming NC State’s starting quarterback in 2021, Leary has started seven games against power conference competition at home. The veteran has a 65.5 percent completion rate on 7.7 yards per attempt with 16 touchdowns and one interception in those outings. NC State never lost one of these games. This is a spot where Leary typically plays well.

Kentucky needs a good Devin Leary performance on Saturday afternoon.

Trevin Wallace must play assignment sound football

Kentucky junior linebacker Trevin Wallace has played at an All-SEC level in the first four weeks. The former blue-chip recruit from South Georgia ranks No. 3 in the SEC in sacks (3.5), leads the team in tackles (25), tackles for loss (5.0), and is second on the team in pressures (12). Wallace has been one of the top front-seven players in college football.

Florida will test the patience of No. 32.

The Gators are a run-first operation that will make Kentucky’s linebackers play horizontally on stretch zone. Florida will then use a boot game and quick passing to take advantage of aggressiveness. Wallace has been a splash player throughout his career but can get caught out of position. If he does, that could allow Trevor Etienne to pop a big run or a short pass could turn into a big gain.

Kentucky will need Wallace to be assignment sounds. Splash defensive plays aren’t necessarily going to win a football game against an offense that is very good about staying ahead of schedule.

NFL tape for Marques Cox

Northern Illinois transfer Marques Cox entered the transfer portal to find a bigger stage. The multi-year starter in the MAC has NFL Draft potential. Through four games, Kentucky’s left tackle has shown some of that potential with four pressures allowed in 138 pass block snaps.

But Cox has not truly been tested yet. That first big test will come on Saturday against an edge rusher that will be playing on Sundays.

Princely Umanmielen is a standup pass rusher who will find himself against Cox multiple times on Saturday afternoon. The senior ranks third in the SEC in pressures (17) and leads Florida in tackles for loss (3.0). Umanmielen will be a draft pick in April and owns a good blend of speed and power. Cox will be challenged.

Florida will give Kentucky’s offense line numerous fronts to block. There will be pre-snap and post-snap movement. But on most passing downs, the Gators are going to want Umanmielen rushing the blind side. Cox will need to keep Devin Leary clear for Kentucky’s offense to have consistent success on Saturday.

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