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Gators Gameday: Question marks and a key matchup for No. 19 Florida vs. No. 20 Kentucky

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
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Three questions for No. 19 Florida (1-0) heading into Saturday's matchup with the No. 20 Kentucky (1-0) in its SEC opener under the lights at The Swamp (7 p.m., ESPN):

Can the UF defense keep Kentucky quarterback Will Levis in check?

Will Levis is capable of burning opposing defenses with his arms and legs. Last season, Florida's defense held Levis to under 100 yards passing (87) and rushing (21). But Levis looked more confident in throwing the ball in passing for 303 yards and 3 touchdowns last week against Miami of Ohio.

"He is a top draft guy," Florida cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. said, "So, that means his balls are accurate. So I’ll have to have my keys right, eyes right."

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Can Florida achieve balance on offense?

Florida rushed for 283 yards and passed for 168 yards in its season opener against Utah. Look for the Gators to again try to establish the ground game first, but Florida may need to throw it more if Kentucky stacks the box. Florida's offensive line looked vastly improved from last season in Week 1 and will get its first taste of SEC play against a Kentucky front seven led by linebacker DeAndre Square.

"Kentucky, they’re going to come to play. They’re not going to just fold over and lay down," UF center Kingsley Eguakun said. "Like I said, I think if we do what we’re supposed to do, handle business how we’re supposed to do it, I think everything will be fine.”

Eguakun was named a captain for the game along with linebacker Amari Burney, wide receiver Jordan Pouncey and wide receiver Xzavier Henderson.

How will the Gators respond if it's another close game?

Gators linebacker Amari Burney (2) intercepts a pass in the end zone to end the game against the Utah Utes at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Sept. 3, 2022.

Florida coach Billy Napier improved to 17-3 in one-score games in his career when the Gators held off Utah 29-26. The Gators played with a calm that reflected their coach. Linebacker Amari Burney said on Napier's radio show the defense stuck together during its third-down goal line stand.

"In the past we would have been yelling at each other in the huddle, cussing each other out," Burney said.

Napier's clock management was questioned when he left 1:25 remaining following UF's go-ahead score, but his gassed defense stepped up and made a play, with Burney securing the win on an interception in the end zone. It projects to be another tight game against Kentucky, with Florida a 5.5-point favorite as of Thursday afternoon. Another sellout crowd at The Swamp could help spur the Gators to make a game-changing play in a tight contest.

Key matchup: Florida cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. vs. Kentucky wide receiver Tayvion Robinson

Tayvion Robinson was a big factor in the passing game in Kentucky's 37-13 season-opening win over Miami of Ohio, recording six catches for 136 yards, including a long of 45 yards. It will be up to Jason Marshall Jr. to take away Levis' top target in man coverage. Marshall may also have to account for speedy Kentucky freshman receiver Barion Brown on occasion depending on how Kentucky's receivers line up.

"They got speed," Marshall said. "They can catch. That’s pretty much it so just the DBs being on their game holding them to low numbers."

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