This may sound like a bit of an overstatement, but Saturday’s game against Kentucky is one of the most important in Will Muschamp’s head coaching career.
Because if he doesn’t win this one — doesn’t dispose of a 17.5-point underdog at home — that hot seat that cooled a bit with the 65-0 opening-day win over Eastern Michigan is going to become raging hot like it’s never been before.
Muschamp cannot lose this game. If he does, the Gators are looking at a strong possibility of starting the SEC season 0-3, which would not only be a disaster for the Gators, it would put Muschamp on the brink of possibly/probably losing his job. It would mean the Gators were out of the division race on the first Saturday in October, and it’s hard to see that being survivable.
This is a dangerous game for the Gators. The Wildcats, like the Gators, appear to be much improved. They’re playing with great discipline and confidence and they’re coming into The Swamp expecting to win Saturday night.
It’s just as obvious that this Florida team is way better than the one that went 4-8 last season and put Muschamp in this precarious position. It’s night and day with the offense, and the Gators appear as sound as usual on defense and much better on special teams, especially with the return of Andre Debose and the return to form of punter Kyle Christy.
I like the way Muschamp turned Kurt Roper loose last week and let him run his offense, pushing the pedal to the metal into the fourth quarter. The offense figures to get better as it gains game experience. And I really like the energy and intensity this team is playing with. The Gators look like an angry team that is looking to atone for what happened last season. If that trend continues, the Gators will get past Kentucky and have a chance to move on to Tuscaloosa with a lot of confidence and an attitude they have nothing to lose and could pull the upset.
But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. The Gators need to be focused on this game, because they are going to be challenged on many fronts by the Wildcats. The offensive tackles are going to have their hands full with those two good defensive ends, Alvin “Bud” Dupree and Za’Darius Smith, and the defense is going to face a severe test from a very balanced offense that has a quarterback, Patrick Towles, playing with a great deal of confidence and has some impressive (and fast) weapons around him.
I’ve been telling people all summer that I think this Florida team is going to be a lot better than many expect. I’m sticking to that. And I think we’ll see that Saturday night with a complete team performance by a fired-up Florida team.
Prediction: Florida 31, Kentucky 17.