Andreu's Answers: Florida's defense prevented big plays in win over Kentucky

Robbie Andreu
Gator Sports
Florida's Kadarius Toney runs into the end zone with a 50-yard punt return Saturday against Kentucky at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Before every Florida game, veteran college football beat writer Robbie Andreu comes up with five pertinent questions and then answers them after the game. Here’s Week 8:

1. Will the Florida defense give up long scoring plays like the Gators did in the past two games against Arkansas and Vanderbilt?

 Kentucky’s only touchdown came on a 4-yard pass from Terry Wilson to tightly covered tight end Keaton Upshaw in the second quarter, so, no, the defense did not surrender any long scoring plays for a change. In fact, the Gators gave up zero explosive plays in the game. The Wildcats’ longest play was a 19-yard scramble by Wilson that set up a field goal late in the first half that gave UK a 10-7 lead. The Wildcats’ longest pass play was for just 13 yards. So, no big scoring plays or chunk plays for a defense that has given up plenty of both this season. 

2. Will Kyle Trask struggle to throw for 300-plus yards against a sound UK secondary?

Trask had another good game, completing 21 of 27 passes for three touchdowns to go along with no interceptions. But he fell short of the 300-yard mark, finishing with 256. This should not have come as a surprise. Kentucky has the No. 1-ranked pass defense in the SEC and the Wildcats crowded the secondary by dropping seven and eight men into coverage. A week earlier, the UK defense held Alabama quarterback Mac Jones to just 230 yards passing and two touchdowns. It’s what this UK defense does.

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask scrambles away from Kentucky defensive end Joshua Paschal as he looks for a receiver during the second half Saturday.

3. With tight end Kyle Pitts returning after missing the last two games, what kind of impact will he have?

Like many probably were expecting, he had a substantial and immediate impact on the game. The first time he was targeted by Trask, on UF’s fifth offensive play of the game, he caught a 56-yard touchdown pass against UK’s best defensive back, cornerback Kelvin Joseph. Not only did he beat Joseph to get open down the middle, he then outran him to the end zone. That’s not something you see every day, a 6-foot-6, 246-pound tight end running away from an elite cornerback. And that was just the start. Pitts caught two more touchdown passes in the second half to go along with a 22-yard reception. He led the Gators in receptions with five for 99 yards. And, like Trask said after the game, his mere presence creates havoc in opposing secondaries and opens opportunities for others to make plays in the passing game.

4. Can UK keep the ball away from the Gators with a consistent ground game behind a veteran offensive line?

The Wildcats came into the game determined to pull this off and they did in the first half, almost to perfection. The UF defense could not stop the run and get off the field. As a result, the Wildcats owned the ball for most of the half, winning the time of possession battle by a staggering 23:23 minutes to 6:37. But what happened in the closing seconds of the second quarter and at the start of the third quarter changed everything. Kadarius Toney’s 50-yard punt return for a touchdown in the closing seconds of the first half gave the Gators a 14-10 lead. Then, on the opening possession of the second half, Trask threw a TD pass to Pitts that put UF in command, 21-10, and took the Wildcats out of their ball-control mode, and their comfort zone. The UF defense dominated the rest of the way, limiting the Wildcats to just 46 total yards in the second half.

5. Will the Gators get off to a fast start on both sides of the ball? Or will it be just one side (the offense) like last Saturday in Nashville?

Both started slow, but the offense was bailed out by a fake punt that kept the Gators’ first possession alive and led to the 56-yard TD pass from Trask to Pitts. Had the Gators gone ahead and elected to punt — instead of calling the fake, with running back Dameon Pierce scooting 15 yards for a first down — it would have been a quick three-and-out for the offense. As for the defense, there was nothing quick about it. The Gators could not figure out UK’s running game and the Wildcats held onto the ball for most of the half, scoring 10 points and rolling up 175 total yards. Starting fast will certainly be an emphasis in practice this week, with the Gators heading to Knoxville on Saturday.

— Contact Robbie Andreu at 374-5022 or robbie.andreu@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

Up next

Who: No. 5 Florida (7-1) at Tennessee (2-5)

When: 3:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: CBS

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850