It happens every year, Kentucky faces Florida in football and everyone talks about the streak. The Wildcats haven’t won since 1986 and every year there is discussion amongst fans about why this could be the year. If UK can just do (insert here), they will have a chance to win. After all these years, none of those reasons have proven viable. There have only been a handful of close games between the two. Here’s why this year could be different.
Florida isn’t the juggernaut they once were. Despite a brutal defense that ranks near the top in every statistical category, the Gator offense has been far from impressive. Many will blame that on quarterback Jeff Driskell, who is now out for the season with an injury, but the offense as a whole was subpar. His replacement, Tyler Murphy, played hot and cold during his first extended game experience against Tennessee. Murphy is a running threat that seems to get tight when he is kept in the pocket. That same fearsome defense will be missing four starters this weekend due to various reasons.
Under Will Muschamp, Florida has had a tendency to play to the level of their opponents (see Toledo) or come out just downright flat (see Sugar Bowl vs Louisville) and fans could see the Gators struggle with Kentucky this week. Even last year’s lopsided 38-0 win in Gainesville should have been much worse considering that Kentucky was playing a tight end at quarterback. There were several big plays left on the field by the Wildcat offense because they couldn’t complete a pass.
It’s also important to remember that Mark Stoops is now the coach in Lexington and things have changed a bit so far. The team has shown much more desire and intensity than Kentucky fans are accustomed to seeing lately. That alone will be a big factor in the game. The Cats could have hung their heads when they were down to Louisville but they kept fighting and lost a close game. If you play enough close games, you will start winning some of them.
Also of note is the talent level at Kentucky. There are a lot more “stars” on the current roster than there used to be and most of that talent is young. They don’t have a negative feeling about playing Florida. The streak is just a number to them and this is just another game to try to win. It also doesn’t hurt that a lot of that talent is from the SunshineState now. Remember how UK has hung tough with Georgia throughout the last ten years, sometimes inexplicably considering the talent gap? Those teams were heavy on Georgia recruits who seemed to take their game up a notch against the Dawgs. It will be interesting to see if the same holds true for Floridian players.
This is not to say that Kentucky will win this Saturday, or even should, but that there is still reason for hope after all these years. This is a new year and a new era in Kentucky football, a win over the Gators would prove to be the perfect statement to let everyone know.