I’m not going to sit here and tell you this is the year Kentucky finally beats Florida. That article’s been done time and time before, and frankly, after last year, I don’t have it in me anymore. What I am going to do is tell you is how, until the losing streak to Florida ends, Kentucky football cannot truly move forward.
Since the Cats beat the Gators 10-3 back in 1986, Kentucky’s had some success on the football field: ten bowl games; monumental wins over Alabama, No. 1 LSU, and arch rival Louisville; and stars like Tim Couch, Jared Lorenzen, Stevie Johnson, Randall Cobb, and Benny Snell. The Cats even snapped a 26-year losing streak against Tennessee using a wide receiver at quarterback. There have been big moments, yes, but the one constant underlying it all is the annual loss to Florida. The proverbial kick in the groin; the zit on your face on the night of a big date; the seed of doubt you just can’t shake. Six Kentucky head coaches have gone up against the streak and failed to break it. Even Nick Saban is impressed.
Wrapped up in those 31 losses are the traits that make Kentucky football so Kentucky football; borne from heartache is the fortitude to withstand the annual cycle of hope, letdown, and self-deprecation and still come back for more. I’d argue only a few fanbases truly know what that’s like. I honestly doubt many more could handle it, which, in an odd way, makes me a little proud.
Of all of the bad losses Kentucky’s taken over the last 31 years, four to Florida rank up there with the worst. In 1993, the Cats had a 20-17 lead with three seconds left before Danny Wuerffel, a back-up, found Chris Doering, a walk-on, in the end zone for the winning score. On a night where Kentucky did so many things right, intercepting Florida SEVEN times, fate intervened.
If 1993 taught us about bad luck, 2003 taught us about self-sabotage. Kentucky had a 21-3 lead over Florida heading into the fourth quarter, but the Gators scored 21 straight to get the win. Included in the Cats’ fourth quarter collapse was an interception by Jared Lorenzen to set up the winning score and a missed field goal by Taylor Begley with 44 seconds left that could have forced overtime.
In 2014, we learned about human error, which sometimes means you can lose even when you’re ahead and the play clock’s at zero and the ball hasn’t been snapped. That one really hurt.
I don’t need to remind you about last year, possibly the cruelest loss of all. Witnessing a 27-14 fourth-quarter lead disappear felt entirely too familiar and the phrases “10 men on the field” and “wide open” are now etched into Kentucky football lore. On a night where actual experts picked the Cats to beat the Gators and it should have happened, the fact that it didn’t was the straw that broke many of our backs.
It’s impossible to read through all this and not be depressed, which is exactly why the streak has to end; until it does, it will only act as an anchor mooring Kentucky football to the worst version of itself. Imagine what life would be like without it. What would happen to all that pent up negativity? Would we become optimists? I bet we’d even start to like the checkerboard uniforms.
The fact that Dan Mullen, who went 8-1 against Kentucky as Mississippi State’s head coach, is now in charge in Gainesville doesn’t bode well for the future either. This would be the year to do it, with Mullen still building, the Gators looking vulnerable against the run, a pair of deadly running backs in Benny Snell and AJ Rose, and stars on defense.
But, if we learned anything from 2011, it’s that a streak like this will only end when you least expect it. So, please, keep the Kool-Aid away from me this week. I’m doing my part to change the mojo.