LEXINGTON, Ky. – Kentucky stunned Florida in Gainesville last September, halting a 31-game series losing streak with an impressive 27-16 victory. But the Wildcats may be hard pressed to make it two in a row over the eighth-ranked Gators, who come in off a 45-0 blanking of UT Martin, as they open their SEC campaign at home Saturday without their starting quarterback after Terry Wilson suffered a season-ending knee injury in last week's 38-17 win over Eastern Michigan.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, ESPN. LINE: Florida -8
"I'm very sorry about Terry's injury," head coach Mark Stoops said in a statement about the quarterback that last year led Kentucky to its first 10-win season since 1977. "He has done so much for our program over the last two seasons, both in leadership and his production on the field. As a team captain, he will continue to be an important part of our team and we look forward to him returning to the field when he has recovered." In the meantime, the offense is now in the hands of junior transfer Sawyer Smith, who will make his first start for the Wildcats after going 5-of-9 for 76 yards and two touchdowns as Wilson's replacement last week. While the Wildcats have an unknown behind center, the Gators will feature a quarterback quite familiar with this SEC rivalry - and one with something to prove - as Feleipe Franks did not have a performance to remember in last year's meeting, completing just 17 of 38 passes for 232 yards with two touchdowns, an interception and a fumble. "I don't see how (last year) has much effect on this year's game, to be honest with you," said Gators head coach Dan Mullen, whose team went 9-2 after losing to the Wildcats last year. "They did a good job (and) won the game last year. We grew a lot from that as a team within our program and where we are."
ABOUT FLORIDA (2-0, 0-0 SEC)
Franks was razor sharp in the win over UT Martin, connecting on 25-of-27 passes for 270 yards and two touchdowns as he broke Tim Tebow's single-game school record for completion percentage. The offense rolled up 543 yards in the win, giving the Gators at least 500 yards of total offense in four of the last six games after producing three such performances from 2015-17 before Mullen's arrival. The defense has been getting to quarterbacks with 15 sacks in the first two games, including 10 in the opener versus Miami, and the unit will need to pressure the Wildcats' new signal-caller to help a Gators secondary that may be forced to turn to freshmen with star corner CJ Henderson doubtful after hurting his ankle last weekend.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (2-0, 0-0)
Smith is no stranger to collegiate action, hitting 144-of-229 passes for 1,669 yards and 14 TDs while leading Troy to the Dollar General Bowl last year, but the Gators defense will no doubt provide a far more formidable challenge. The Wildcats, though, did most of their damage a year ago against Florida on the ground, churning out 303 yards, but Kentucky's all-time leading rusher Benny Snell (175 yards in that outing) has moved on to the NFL's Pittsburgh Steelers and Wilson (105 yards) is injured, leaving the team with some running game concerns. The Wildcats did outgain Eastern Michigan 239-49 on the ground last week, and the run defense remains stout up front despite the departure of first-team All-American Josh Allen.
1. Florida owns a 51-18 advantage in the series and the Gators haven't lost consecutive games to the Wildcats since 1976-77.
2. The Gators have won six straight games for the first time since 2015, when they won seven in a row.
3. Kentucky went 5-3 in the SEC last season, the team's first winning conference mark since 1977.
PREDICTION: Florida 31, Kentucky 20