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We are entering what looks to be a highly important weekend involving three SEC teams. Kentucky, Florida and Tennessee are set for battle in two different games. I’ve said it since last spring that these two games will be important for the overall trajectory of the season.
Now, it doesn’t take an expert to figure out why the Kentucky vs. Florida game is important. We just witnessed Florida upset Utah and look impressive in the process. Sure, areas of their game need to be fixed, but that win in Gainesville has set the town on fire. The Gators following that up with a game against the Wildcats has the potential of being a real momentum builder for Billy Napier.
There’s also a game in Pittsburgh that will have early season ramifications for Tennessee. Vegas is loving the Vols at the moment, with them sitting at seven point favorites on Tuesday morning.
Kentucky Needs Will Levis To Lead the Charge, Without Chris Rodriquez Against Florida
Put aside the fact that the Napier era started with a top-ten win, this team has a quarterback in Anthony Richardson. He can lead them to a season that not many predicted before Saturday. Now, let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Florida still has to prove they’re not a one-hit wonder. Kentucky is looking to silence the folks that have already crowned Florida the winner, coming off their win over Utah.
I absolutely loved what I saw out of Anthony Richardson, who looked dynamic on the run and poised when needed in the pocket. Sure, the Gators could’ve gotten more out of the passing game, but when you’re rushing the ball like they were, stick with what’s working.
Kentucky looked sharp in the second half behind Will Levis against Miami (Ohio), but he will need to be a force on Saturday if the offense is going to score enough points to win.
But there is a problem right now with the Wildcats and it stems from the running back room. Mark Stoops was mum on the status of Chris Rodriquez, which he said he isn’t allowed to discuss. This is a university matter, not a football problem. So it wasn’t a surprise to see Rodriquez absent from the weekly depth chart on Monday. Add on the fact that Ramon Jefferson will be out for several weeks and Kentucky has a very big problem as they head south to Florida. It’s not as if QB Will Levis can do it all, but he might have to try.
SEC Quarterback Play Is All The Rage
On the other hand, Florida’s Anthony Richardson drew significant praise from Mark Stoops on Monday.
“Anthony Richardson is one heckuva football player, very good player. Just very talented, you could see just more comfortable in this offense with Coach Napier and what they’re doing. He’s got a very talented arm and can make all the throws and obviously hurts you with his feet.”
We will see how this shakes out, but not having Chris Rodriquez is a massive hill for Kentucky to climb on Saturday night in Gainesville.
Tennessee Needs To Handle Its Business In Pittsburgh
This is in no way a ‘must win’ game for Josh Heupel and this team, but it would go a long way in terms of making an early statement. The Vols are coming off a decisive win over Ball State, but now the fun begins for Hendon Hooker and this offense.
Losing to the Panthers and then having to play a bad Akron team, before hosting the Florida Gators would not be ideal in terms of momentum. If Tennessee wants to be perceived as a threat early on this season, then going to Pittsburgh and leaving with a win will undoubtedly set a tone for 2022.
This Josh Heupel team needs to be 3-0 when the Gators come to town, for so many reasons. Don’t let an early season loss damper the quiet momentum that’s been building. This is also the same team that Tennessee fans were introduced to Hendon Hooker against last season. The defense did not record a sack against Ball State and will need to make Kedon Slovis uncomfortable if they’re going to stop this Panthers offense, which looked solid against West Virginia.
Josh Heupel will lead his team into battle with a pretty healthy roster. The Vols head coach did note that they would have to reevaluate linebacker Juwan Mitchell towards the end of the week. Depending how that shakes out, DC Tim Banks could be using Aaron Beasley alongside Jeremy Banks. Either way, Tennessee needs to get after Slovis and not give him enough time to sling it around the field.
Kedon Slovis completed 16 of 24 passes for 308 yards and a touchdown last week, with the Panthers scoring two TD’s off two WVU turnovers.
No Easy Task For Tennessee
But don’t let the betting odds fool you, Pittsburgh will present a challenge for Tennessee’s offense along the line of scrimmage. How Hendon Hooker and Cedric Tillman, along with running back Jabari Small handle the small things will go a long way in securing the win on Saturday.
Limiting mistakes and using guys like Bru McCoy and Jalin Hyatt to stretch the field will be key. Tennessee obviously has the offensive firepower to get out of Pittsburgh with a nice win, but losing would create an interesting dynamic with a talented looking Billy Napier Florida team headed to town in two weeks.
Three teams – and only two will come out of this weekend with momentum still intact.