Cats view Florida as measuring stick

Having opened SEC play against Florida for each of the last five seasons and a dozen other times during the last 30 years, Kentucky has occasionally cited the Gators as a good measuring stick for how the remainder of its season may unfold.

In most of those cases, the Wildcats received a harsh reality check.

Losers of 27 consecutive games to Florida, the longest streak by one program over another in SEC history, Kentucky takes another stab at it Saturday when the 2-0 Wildcats travel to Gainesville with as much positive momentum as they have had in quite some time.

Sign up for AllWildcats!

Will resounding wins over UT-Martin (59-14) and Ohio (20-3) be judged differently after the Cats tangle with the Gators?

“Looking forward to going down to Florida,” UK head coach Mark Stoops said Monday during his weekly press luncheon. “Good challenge. Well coached, good football team. We all know we're in for a higher level of competition, and we're excited about that. The players and coaches will be excited. We'll see where we're at this week.”

Before they find out, there will be a week’s worth of questions about where they’ve been. UK’s last win over Florida came at home in 1986. Since that 10-3 triumph, the Cats have been outscored 1,024-442 by the Gators, an average final score of 42-16.

It’s been even longer since UK has won at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, aka “The Swamp,” a 31-3 romp in 1979.

“It will be a real challenge,” Stoops said. “I think it's a great venue, obviously one of the best venues in college football. You'll probably hear me say that every road game in the SEC (laughs). But it's a great place, a great atmosphere. Very passionate fan base. It will be a real challenge. It's certainly not easy. It will be really good for us to see where we're at. I know the coaches are excited. The players are anxious for this great challenge.”

Stoops is no stranger to success against Florida. Prior to taking the job at UK, he was 5-0 against the Gators as a defensive coordinator and secondary coach at Florida State and Miami, respectively. That included two decisive wins at “The Swamp,” a 21-7 victory in 2011 with the Seminoles and a 41-16 win in 2002 with the Hurricanes.

He lost his first game as Kentucky head coach against Florida 24-7 last year in Lexington, but has been quickly adding talent to the roster via two strong recruiting classes that give the program hopes of competing with its longtime nemesis.

As for the streak, however, Stoops says he’s not going to use it as a motivation factor this week in practice.

“I really don't think we need that motivation,” he said. “If it does to some individual players, that's fine. I'll let them read that. But it's not something I want to put in front of them. We're pretty motivated to get out there and play well and try to get a win.”

Kentucky has 16 players on its roster from the Sunshine State. Stoops knows they’ll be eager to make their mark against the Gators, who passed on several of them in the recruiting process.

Said Stoops: “I haven't heard much yet from them, but I'm sure I will throughout this week, especially Jojo (Kemp). I'm sure I'll hear him when he walks in the door (laughs). No, they'll be excited to play. Javess (Blue) is just frustrated. He wants to be healthy. He wants to be out there.”

Blue, one of the Cats' biggest playmakers at receiver and a native of Lake Wales, Fla., has missed most of the first two games after sustaining an ankle injury in the opener. Stoops said he is considered "day to day," but expressed doubt on Monday that the senior wideout would be able to play against the Gators.

Florida (1-0) is coming off an impressive 65-0 drubbing of Eastern Michigan on Saturday. The Gators’ season opener against Idaho was cancelled on Aug. 30 due to strong storms in Gainesville.


AllWildcats Top Stories