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Edges breakdown: Florida Gators vs. Kentucky Wildcats edition, plus prediction

GAINESVILLE -- Edges breakdown ...

Florida has won 23 straight against Kentucky dating back to 1987. It's the nation's second longest winning streak in an annual series. The two teams began playing annually in 1967. The last time Kentucky defeated Florida in Gainesville was in 1979. UK won 31-3. Florida has been ranked 21 seasons in a row when facing Kentucky. Ranked UF teams are 27-3 against Kentucky. 

The slow-starting Gators haven't scored in a first quarter in three straight games. The last time that happened was 1988 -- Emmitt Smith's sophomore season -- when the Gators went scoreless in first straight first quarters. UF turned things around in the third quarter against Tennessee, scoring 17 points on 163 yards of total offense.

New head coach Joker Phillips has the Wildcats playing with confidence to begin the season. Kentucky trounced rival Louisville and new coach Charlie Strong (UF's former defensive coordinator) in the Cats' season opener. Last week, Kentucky 544 yards of total offense against Akron.

Florida running back Jeff Demps is averaging 103.3 rushing yards per game. Kentucky's defense is ranked 63rd nationally against the run, allowing an average of 148 rushing yards per game. UF sophomore Mike Gillislee is beginning to emerge as the Gators' most consistent short-yardage option. Gillislee enters Saturday's game against Kentucky with three rushing scores in his last two games.

UF quarterback John Brantley is averaging 150.7 passing yards per game but he has five touchdown throws this season without allowing an interception. Brantley's top target has been receiver Deonte Thompson, who 54 receiving yards per game. Demps is second on the team with eight receptions. Brantley was excellent on third-down throws against Tennessee and showed signs of his ability. Critical to improving the Gators' passing game is the further development of UF's offensive line, which will be in full health for just the second game this season on Saturday. UF allowed only one sack last week against Tennessee and Brantley had plenty of time to find open receivers.

Kentucky's passing defense is ranked fourth nationally, allowing just 109.67 passing yards per game. What's more, opposing quarterbacks have been awful against Kentucky, posting an average passing efficiency rating of 85.66.

UK senior running back Derrick Locke is the SEC's leading rusher, averaging 124 yards per game. He has rushed for over 100 yards in every game this season. UF's rushing defense is ranked 24th nationally, allowing just 92.33 rushing yards per game. Last week, UF held Tennessee running back Tauren Poole to 23 yards on 10 carries. UF could have trouble on Saturday against Kentucky hybrid player Randall Cobb. Cobb has rushed for 108 yards on nine attempts this season for an average of 12 yards per carry.

Aiding UF's running game will be the Gators' new 5-2 defense. UF defensive ends Duke Lemmens and Ronald Powell act as hybrid defenders, playing both on the line and in occasionally in pass coverage against tight ends. With DTs Omar Hunter, Jaye Howard and Terron Sanders on the field at the same time, rushing yards are currently hard to find against the Gators.

UK senior quarterback Mike Hartline ranks fourth in the SEC and eighth nationally in passing efficiency with a rating of 170.2. Translation: Hartline has been smart with the ball. He's averaging 226.7 passing yards per game (third in the SEC) and has thrown five touchdowns passes without allowing an interception. Six Kentucky receivers enter the game with more than seven receptions, including Cobb who leads UK with 12 receptions and two touchdown catches.

Hartline faces his toughest test of the year on Saturday. Florida leads the nation in passes intercepted with 10. An interesting battle to watch will be UF's defensive line against UK's offensive line in passing situations. UF is ranked 22nd in the nation in sacks with nine in three games. Meanwhile, Kentucky is ranked second in the nation in sacks allowed. UK has only allowed one sack this season.

Florida kickoff return specialist Jeff Demps is ranked sixth in the nation in average kickoff-return yardage (36.83 ypg). The Gators punted three times last week against Tennessee, giving the Vols an average starting position of its own 11-yard line. Kentucky's Randall Cobb returns punts and kickoffs for the Cats. He has returned one punt for a touchdown this season.

A lot of people are calling for an upset. That's understandable considering the way Florida has started games. Also, consider that Kentucky ranks second in the SEC in third-down conversions (56.4 percent) and first in the SEC in opponent's third-down conversions (26.8 percent). Still, my gut tells me that Florida is too deep along its offensive and defensive lines to lose to Kentucky at home. Florida leads the SEC in turnover margin (plus-seven) but Kentucky is second (plus-four). Kentucky covers the spread (plus-14).
FINAL ... UF 35, UK 23





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