Written by Ryan Lippert
Unfortunately for football fans in the Southeastern Conference, week three of the college football season doesn’t have many exciting matchups in the SEC. However, there is one game that I believe the entire country, especially the rest of the conference, should pay close attention to. The game I’m referring to is between the ninth-ranked Florida Gators and my beloved University of Kentucky Wildcats. Florida travels to Lexington for a night game at Kroger Field Saturday night after losing to Kentucky for the first time since 1987 last season. Both of these teams are undefeated and will be looking to come out with their first conference win of the season in what should be a very exciting game. With that being said, here are my thoughts on this week’s SEC Game of the Week.
Sawyer Smith Takes the Reigns as QB for the Wildcats
After getting off to a hot start in their week two victory over Eastern Michigan, tragedy struck for Kentucky’s offense. Junior starting quarterback Terry Wilson went down and was carted off the field after taking a rough horse-collar tackle. It was announced on Sunday that Wilson will miss the rest of the season with a torn patellar tendon in his left knee. With Wilson out, the Wildcats will be turning to Troy transfer, Sawyer Smith, to lead this offense.
While Kentucky will miss Wilson at quarterback, they at least have a quarterback with game experience in Smith. Smith, a junior, transferred in from Troy where he played in all 13 games and took over as the starter after their starting quarterback went down. He went 5-2 as a starter, including a Dollar General Bowl victory over Buffalo in which he was named the MVP. As a sophomore at Troy, Smith threw for 1,669 yards, 14 touchdowns, and six interceptions. While this is all impressive, this is easily the biggest stage Smith has played on in college on Saturday night.
Luckily for Smith, Kentucky has a solid two-back system in their running game with AJ Rose and Kavosiey Smoke. Smoke has led the way with 170 rushing yards and two touchdowns, while Rose has 146 yards with two touchdowns of his own. It will also help that Florida’s top cornerback, CJ Henderson is listed as unlikely to play due to an ankle sprain, which should free up star wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr. for some big plays. If they can get the run game going and Smith can establish a connection with Bowden Jr, this offense should still be in very good shape.
Is Feleipe Franks the Real Deal?
On the opposite end, the Gators are led once again by quarterback Feleipe Franks. Franks received a lot of hype and praise in the offseason after throwing for 2,457 yards and 24 touchdowns last season. However, I haven’t been sold on him so far. He has led the Gators to a 2-0 record but still hasn’t looked great. I don’t believe he has faced a test yet like he will Saturday night as his week one victory over Miami (FL) was a sloppy game on both sides and then they had an easy matchup last week against UT-Martin.
Things will be even more on Franks’ shoulders as he will be without his top weapon in wide receiver Kadarius Toney, who suffered a shoulder injury this past week. Franks will now be turning to wide receiver Van Jefferson as his top target, who is a very dangerous deep threat. Even with the absence of Toney, the Wildcats’ secondary must step up this weekend as they have been one of the biggest question marks this season. Along with the passing game, the Gators will be looking to get running back Lamical Perine going on the ground. Perine has struggled so far this season, only rushing for 93 yards and a touchdown through two games. Linebacker Kash Daniel and Kentucky’s impressive front seven will be looking to make sure this is another rough week for him.
As has been the case the past two seasons, this will be a very close, hard fought battle on Saturday night. I think Kentucky will establish the ground game early with Rose and Smoke to take pressure off Smith. I believe they both will have big games with at least a touchdown each. I also see Smith rising to the occasion when it matters and connecting with Bowden on a couple big plays. For Florida, Franks will make the necessary plays against this Kentucky secondary to keep them in this game. However, I don’t think it will be enough as the Big Blue Nation will be loud Saturday night and this Kentucky team will come out hungry to win this one for Terry. I’ve got the Wildcats winning in a close one 30-27.