The chance for an upset in this contest is as good as it has probably ever been in the last decade. That is a sentence you’ll probably read a couple more times this year too, as the Kentucky Wildcats have improved dramatically over last year’s train wreck. Florida isn’t your typical “Florida” in 2013, either. After losing to Miami in week two and suffering though a hideous win against Tennessee last time out, the Gators appear to be very beatable. That is especially true if the same UK defense that played against Louisville shows up again.
Athletes alone are reason enough for Vegas to favor the Gators by double-digits, but this game has “trap” written all over it. Even with a completely stagnant offense, Kentucky was this close to making Louisville really sweat it out, and with Florida looking for answers on offense and their star quarterback done for the year, this could be a great opportunity for Mark Stoops to earn his first signature win as the UK head coach.
Kentucky enters Florida week in a similar position as it did last season. In 2012 The Cats had just come off a heartbreaking loss to Western Kentucky in overtime and traveled to No. 14 Florida. This year, Kentucky is welcoming the 20th-ranked Gators to Lexington following a woulda, coulda, shoulda game against Louisville; except the outcome should (hopefully) be a little different this time.
Last season Kentucky was demolished in Gainesville in a game that left the few remaining Joker Phillips supporters jumping ship. Jeff Driskel threw for 203 yards and a touchdown, while the Gators ground game added 200 more and three touchdowns. Ten different wide outs were on the receiving end of Driskel’s 18 completions which earned him a 7.5-yard average.
For Kentucky, the passing game was non-existent as Morgan Newton threw an abysmal 7-for-21 with 48 yards and three interceptions, and Jalen Whitlow added a 1-for-6 effort and 12 yards. The running game was somewhat efficient, picking up 159 yards total on 32 carries for 5.0-yard average. Jonathan George lead the rushing attack with 13 carries, and Raymond Sanders added 10 more.
All told, Florida blanked the Wildcats 38-0 in the game; scoring three touchdowns in the 2nd quarter to add to a 1st quarter field goal. Kentucky’s effort in the second half was downright miserable as it punted on each of its four drives, collecting a total of 50 yards, 35 of which came in the last six minutes of the game when reserves were in.
Two missed field goals were the only real scoring opportunities for the Cats, and that squandered an 11-play, 38-yard drive, and a 7-play, 36-yard drive each.
Ugly is all you can say about the Florida game last year. Fortunately, it will be very difficult to do any worse this time around. The only way to go is up.
The Kentucky-Florida football series goes back to the early 1900s, when Kentucky football could regularly beat the Gators. The series continued sporadically through the 1950s and became an every-year game in 1967. At that point, Florida football was well established, and Kentucky football… Well, it wasn’t.
Florida owns a 46-17 record against the Cats all-time, and the last time the Wildcats knocked off the Gators Ronald Reagan was in office. That was 25 years ago in 1986 when UK beat Florida 10-3 to end what was then a six-game losing streak. Ever since then UK has been outscored by UF by an average score of 44 — 17.4, and in the last five meetings Kentucky has scored just 36 points total, or an average of 7.2 points.
To say history is against the Cats is an understatement. There is a mountainous level of dominance that stands between Kentucky and Florida, and it is going to take an extraordinary effort for this UK team to overcome those odds. But if there were ever a year, this might be it.
Bill Ransdell (UK, 1986) — Jerry Claiborne was in his fifth year at Kentucky and was one-season removed from back-to-back bowl games. The Cats were 5-6 the season before and looking for a rebound. Unfortunately ‘86 wasn’t it, and UK went into the final home game of the season standing at 4-4-1 looking for a W against the Gators to at least earn a winning record. Senior quarterback Bill Ransdell threw for 161 yards on 20-of-23 passing attempts as UK beat Florida 10-3 in the most recent victory for the Cats over the Gators.
Mike Fanuzzi (UK, 1974) — Fran Curci and the Wildcats were seeking the program’s first winning season in eight years and ran up against 9th-ranked Florida who were sitting pretty with a Sugar Bowl invitation. Quarterback Mike Fanuzzi ran for 94 yards to help the Cats climb out of an 11-point hole and beat Florida 41-24. The defensive effort added three fumble recoveries, two interceptions, and two blocked punts.
Tim Tebow (UF, 2006-09) — Tim Tebow trucked his way through his three career games against the Wildcats, throwing for 539 yards and rushing for 249 more. He was involved in the shootout in 2007 at Commonwealth Stadium where the Cats put up their best fight in recent memory. This was the game right after the upset over No. 1 LSU. Florida was ranked 14th and won, “upsetting” the 8th-ranked Cats 45-37. Tebow threw for 256 yards and 4 touchdowns, and rushed for 78 yards and a score.
(Thanks to Mark Story for some of this information)
BIGGEST MOMENT FOR UK
It might be hard to call any moment is a loss “big” for Kentucky, but when your team hasn’t won a game in 25 years, you kind of have to make something out of nothing. And that something is the 2007 game where Andre Woodson led the 6-1 Wildcats into Commonwealth Stadium in front of more than 71,000 rabid fans. What a time to be a Wildcats football fan…
Florida opened the game with a quick three-and-out and the Cats took over at their own 33. Woodson led a 9-play, 78-yard drive capped off by a 33-yard touchdown pass to Dicky Lyons to take an early 7-0 lead over the Gators and Commonwealth Stadium was going bonkers. But Tebow answered back with two-straight touchdown drives of 80- and 70-yards a piece. Meanwhile, UK floundered with a missed field goal and a turnover on downs. The first half ended with the Cats down 21-10.
Then the Wildcats unloaded with four touchdown passes out of six tries in the second half as UK tried to climb back in it. But it was too much as Tebow and the Gators piled on more than enough to escape Lexington with a win.
It was an L in the loss column for the Wildcats. But wow, was that an exciting game.
Florida and Will Muschamp doesn’t appear to be a relationship ending any time soon — at least the evidence isn’t visible yet. However, things could certainly go way up or way down by the end of this season. The potential upside to a good year? Mack Brown’s old job at Texas. Remember, Muschamp came to Florida after serving as the Longhorns defensive coordinator from 2008-10. And anybody tuned into the college football world knows what kind of hot seat Brown is on in Austin. However, if things continue to slip in Gainesville and the Miami game proves to be a trend and not an anomaly, Muschamp might find himself on the hot seat as well, albeit not quite as toasty as some of his compatriots.
Obviously as an SEC East foe, the Cats and the Gators will continue to play every year. While we can expect Florida to keep being “Florida” for the time being, even with some small bumps in the road, we can also expect Kentucky to continue its rise in the conference under Mark Stoops. This might be the best year UK has had in a while to end the losing streak, but the gap between these two teams will begin to shrink, also. Stoops will beat Florida somewhere along the line. Will it be in his first try? The odds are certainly against him. But you shouldn’t count it out.