As disappointing as defeat is, it gives you opportunities to learn and improve. and the Gators certainly have plenty to improve upon after the Kentucky loss. There was a lot of bad. A lot. However, there were also several things that gave me hope.
Special Teams Improvements
In week one, Florida kick returners brought several kicks out of the endzone resulting in horrible field position. The Kentucky loss started off the same way. The returner brought the ball out of the endzone and the first drive began at the 17-yard line instead of the 25. This may seem insignificant but football is a game of inches. It is physical combat with a goal of the ball. Eight yards matters.
The reason I mention that is because it happened once and never again in the Kentucky loss. After the initial kickoff, subsequent kicks that reached the endzone resulted in touchbacks. That is growth. That is good special teams coaching. Several times, sophomore wide-out Xzavier Henderson can be seen on film telling teammates not to bring the ball out of the endzone. That’s leadership.
Freshman Kicker Adam Mihalek made two first-half field goals. One of the field goals was from 50 yards out and he booted it right down the middle with plenty of leg behind it. Having a reliable kicker is such a valuable asset and it seems the Gators have found one.
O-Line And QB Play
In the first half of the Kentuck loss, The pass protection was absolutely gorgeous. on the first drive of the game. Anthony Richardson had some of the cleanest pockets I’ve ever seen on that drive. The protection deteriorated throughout the game because the Kentucky coaching staff made adjustments. The gators also lost starting right tackle Michael Tarquin to a leg injury in the first half.
Anthony Richardson had a poor performance and was overall very inaccurate. However, in the first half, he flashed some pro-style throws. He hit a receiver on time, accurately, from the far hash on an out route. That’s a big boy throw. Richardson also fit a ball in between a high safety and an underneath corner. Before he ruined his career with those appalling emails, Jon Gruden used to call that the “turkey hole” throw.
The Improved Defense
The Biggest Bright spot of the Kentucky loss was the defense. They played their hearts out. The defense kept the Gators in the game. Keep in mind they did this against a quarterback that is widely considered to be an early first-round draft pick in 2023. The secondary made one big mistake giving up a big deep ball in the first half and that was it. Even in giving up that big play, the receiver was juggling the ball as he went to the ground.
The defensive line shined in the first half of the Kentucky loss. They made several plays that got the crowd roaring and up out of their seats. On Kentucky’s first drive, Brenton Cox Jr tossed the Kentucky right tackle into the Kentucky QB’s lap and created a sack for his teammate Gervon Dexter Sr. Cox Jr is great at blowing up plays and creating opportunities for his teammates to make plays.
This was highlighted when Cox Jr got to the quarterback, knocked the ball into the air, and Dexter Sr. intercepted it. That was a spectacular turnover that flipped the momentum of the game. In addition to getting sacks and creating a turnover, the entire front seven consistently stuffed the run in the first half.
Defensive lineman Justus Boone had one of the most physical sacks ever in the first half. It was an absolutely textbook good, hard tackle. The hit on the quarterback was so hard was initially called targeting. The ruling was overturned after review. This was a huge play because the sack took Kentucky out of field goal range and forced them to punt.
Last week’s hero Amari Burney played an excellent game. As did Junior safety Jadarrius Perkins and Senior safety Trey Dean III. In the first half of the Kentucky loss, the defense showed major improvement in gap responsibility and contain. The defense is very fast sideline to sideline. They were so fast, that the only way Kentucky was able to move the ball was misdirection and play action.
More Positive Takeaways From The Kentucky Loss
Trevor Etienne had a great first half, scoring a touchdown and converting a two-point conversion with a juke that was beyond filthy. He made the defender fall down and walked into the endzone for the conversion. Etienne is only a freshman, however, he is already one of the most exciting players on the roster.
One of the more random things that made me smile as a Florida fan was when Anthony Richardson was flagged for throwing a blindside block. A quarterback that is willing to throw a block is one that really loves his team and his teammates. I love the fact that my quarterback is out here pancaking people.
You have probably noticed at this point that most of the good things the Gators did in the Kentucky loss were in the first half. That’s because the second half was atrocious in terms of player execution and coaching as well. Florida was manhandled in the second half on both sides of the ball. The offense didn’t score a single point and didn’t even sniff the RedZone. Though the defense only gave up ten points in the second half, they were punched in the mouth by the Kentucky offensive line.
My mom always told me “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” I certainly have nothing good to say about the second half of this game, so I’ll take my mother’s advice and say nothing about it.
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