Gators finding all the pieces to the puzzle, LSU presents new challenge

lorida Gators running back Mike Gillislee (23) runs with the ball in the first half against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. (Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

The Gators took on the Kentucky Wildcats in the Swamp this past Saturday. The Wildcats came into the contest struggling, and their battle continued as they got drubbed by the home team Gators, to the tune of 38-0.

Kentucky actually outgained Florida in the first quarter, but that was the only advantage they would have all day. Wildcats backup quarterback Morgan Newton got the nod when Maxwell Smith was scrapped due to an injury, and he showed the Gator faithful in attendance just why he was not named the starter at the beginning of the season.

The Gators defense was happy to drop into pass coverage instead of going for sacks. Florida rarely blitzed Kentucky, and as a result, when the Gators began shutting down the run and widening their margin, Kentucky’s Newton struggled. Newton threw three interceptions in the second quarter, including a 26 yard pick six to Jaylen Watkins. He finished the game 7-of-21 for 48 yards and three interceptions, all in the first half. By the fourth quarter, Kentucky was forced to bring in freshman Jaylen Whitlow who finished 1-of-6 for 12 yards.

[Related: Gators defense strong in shutout win over Wildcats]

With the Florida defense shutting Kentucky down, the offense had little pressure on their shoulders and it showed. Florida was expected to come out of the gate and pound Kentucky on the ground, but instead they looked to refine the passing game, heading into a tough contest against LSU in a couple weeks. Driskel took advantage of an overmatched (and outcoached) Kentucky defense with notably accurate throws to Quentin Dunbar and Frankie Hammond. Driskel finished 18-27 for 203 yards and a touchdown (he also threw his first interception of the year), to go along with 35 yards on the ground.

Florida Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel (6) runs the ball against the Kentucky Wildcats. (Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

The sophomore quarterback’s ability to extend plays is special. Driskel has improved each week in his ability to elude the initial pass rush and keep his eyes downfield for a receiver to get open, and he’s shown the arm strength to make accurate throws on the run.

Driskel likes to roll to the right; when the pocket collapses, his immediate thought appears to be, “buy time, escape to the right, if nothing’s there, take off for a few yards on the ground”. There is nothing wrong with that. It allows him to regather and make a sound decision (four yards and out of bounds, or even no yards and out of bounds, is better than a turnover).

Florida cruised after a 21 point second quarter, which included the Jaylen Watkins pick six, the big time post throw to Dunbar, and a one yard touchdown plunge from Gillislee. The Gators outperformed Kentucky and showed no willingness to let off with their intensity. The score could easily have been worse. Florida ran the ball exclusively in the fourth quarter. Of Florida’s last 17 offensive plays of the game, they ran the ball 17 times.

Jocoby Brissett got the nod after the first drive of the fourth quarter, but the Florida coaching staff was not willing to take chances, and who could blame them? Florida gained 89 yards on the ground in the fourth quarter.

LSU will come into the Swamp with a defensive scheme set to stop the run and to stop Driskel from rolling to the right. The Tiger’s defensive line is built out of big, athletic, scary men. They will try to do the same thing Florida did to Kentucky. They will rush four and drop seven into coverage. The Florida Offensive line will have to be up to the challenge. They will need to communicate and pick up the blitz when it does inevitably come, because Jeff Driskel is going to be the future of this Gator’s offense.

Gators fans feel really good about their team at the moment. They are 4-0. They have seemingly answered the questions at the quarterback position. A new wide receiver has shown up each game to catch passes. The defense is shutting out teams in the fourth quarter. Despite all of the good this season, the excitement must be tempered before the Gators take on LSU in the Swamp in two weeks.

Wins in Rocky Top and College Station may feel good, but A&M and Tennessee (and certainly Kentucky) are not LSU. That being said, Florida fans still have a lot to be excited about. If the Gators defense can get pressure on Zach Mettenberger and stop the run, the Gators offense may just be able to put up enough points to beat the No. 3-ranked Tigers.

Swampland >> Scenes from Saturday: Florida Gators vs Kentucky Wildcats