Kentucky is 4-0 and will host their first SEC game of the 2023 season on Saturday afternoon at Kroger Field. Florida is 3-1 and slowly building momentum under second-year head coach Billy Napier. A swing game in the East has arrived in Week 5.
The Wildcats and Gators will face off in what many consider a swing game on Saturday. A win for both could serve as a launching point towards a successful season this fall. Get ready for a game with stakes in the Bluegrass.
Before kickoff arrives, let’s take a look back at what we learned this week before Kentucky and Florida meet on the gridiron again.
Graham Mertz is comfortable in Billy Napier’s scheme
Perhaps the most surprising development in the SEC when it comes to transfer quarterbacks is the play that Florida is getting from Graham Mertz. The Wisconsin transfer leads the conference in completion percentage (78.0%) and ranks seventh in yards per attempt (9.0). However, when you dig deeper into the numbers, you see that Florida is playing a conservative brand of football.
Mertz has an impressive passing success rate (52.1%), but this scheme asks for numerous short throws. Florida is using a bunch of pre-snap motion and is asking the redshirt senior to be a game manager. This offense will go as the ground game goes.
Can Kentucky force Mertz out of the comfort zone that Billy Napier‘s scheme has created? To do that, Brad White‘s defense must force Florida into passing situations on second and third down turning a run-first offense into a pass-heavy operation. The results have been ugly in games where Mertz has had to throw over 30 times.
- 55.5% completion rate, 5.8 yards per attempt, 6 touchdowns, 17 interceptions, and team is 0-10 outright
If Kentucky can force Mertz to play true dropback quarterback then some good things should happen for the home team.
Kentucky’s offensive line faces a big test
When looking for weaknesses on the Florida defense, the secondary has had some rough moments and is playing some young players. In Austin Armstrong‘s pressure scheme, the Gators will ask some young players to play on islands. That only matters if you can get this Florida front seven blocked.
Memphis transfer Cam Jackson and Louisville transfer Caleb Banks have made an excellent defensive tackle trio. Princely Umanmielen is one of the top edge rushers in the SEC. Florida has depth and size along the defensive line. At the second level, Shemar James and Scooby Williams form one of the most athletic off-ball linebacker duos in college football. Florida will clearly be the best front seven that Kentucky has seen this season. The Gators might have the second-best front seven on Kentucky’s schedule this season.
Armstrong will use both pre and post-snap movement in an attempt to confuse Devin Leary and Kentucky’s offensive line. The Wildcats have to find a way to get this front blocked on Saturday. Due to Florida’s aggressive nature, there should be big-play opportunities, but Kentucky has to win some battle. The Gators cannot own a heavy advantage in point of attack battle.
Kentucky needs its rebuilt offensive line to pick up movement in both the run and pass game. That has been something this group has had some issues with so far this season.
Kentucky must tackle well
Florida will use a ton of pre-snap motion on Saturday. That will test Kentucky’s eye discipline. After the football is snapped, the Gators will see if the Wildcats can tackle.
The Gators will ride tailbacks Trevor Etienne and Montrell Johnson Jr. throughout the game. When going to the pass game, Graham Mertz will look to target slot wide receiver Ricky Pearsall immediately. For this offense to move the ball, Florida’s skill talent needs to break tackles.
According to PFF data, Pearsall is averaging 5.5 yards after the catch, and Etienne is producing 4.18 yards after contact. Florida depends on skill talent players creating yards after the touch. Kentucky must tackle well on Saturday.
If tackles are missed passing downs will turn into standard downs. Third downs will become much more manageable. An efficient offense will all of a sudden be hard to stop. Kentucky’s tackling has not been an issue to this point in the season, but Saturday will be a different challenge.
The Wildcats must get No. 1 and No. 7 on the ground to avoid the aggravating yards that Mark Stoops often talks about.