Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity
To seize everything you ever wanted. one moment
Would you capture it or just let it slip?
-Eminem, “Lose Yourself”
Much has been made about the University of Kentucky’s football team’s losing streak to the Florida Gators. The Cats have not defeated the Gators on the gridiron since 1986. A lot of things, both good and bad, have transpired since the last UK victory. Presidents have come and gone. Countries have been established and have also dissolved (The Berlin Wall was still up in ’86). Having such a losing streak is one issue. Perhaps the even bigger issue is how wholly uncompetitive the games between the Cats and the Gators have been. As the Lexington Herald Leader’s Mark Story points out, there have only been four realistic chances for the Cats to win. Usually, the game is already over before the first period.
As the losing streak was against Tennessee, the Florida streak has become much more mental than purely a gap in the talent of the players or acumen of the coaches. Most of the time, you can see that the coaches, through their play calling, and the players, through their body language, don’t believe that victory is even possible. Yet, on those rare occasions when the players and coaches and fans believe, we get great contests like the 2007 match up that saw Andre Woodson and Co. give the Gators and Tim Tebow all they could handle in a 45-37 defeat. Too often, from watching the games, Kentucky fans just get the feeling that the mindset is try to keep things as close as possible and try to keep the final margin of victory close, something that rarely happens anyway.
When the talent gap as wide as Florida usually enjoys over the Cats, the boys in blue have to play smarter and more disciplined. The coaches have to exploit every weakness they can to put the Wildcats in the best possible position to win. And from what I saw against Louisville, this current coaching staff is prepared to be bold and not accept a Cats defeat as a foregone conclusion. Against the Cardinals, the gameplan was sound. The defense played much better than expected, slowing down the high scoring Cards and giving the Kentucky offense a chance to tie the game heading into halftime. While the Cats were ultimately done in by a poor offense outing and a flurry of ill-timed miscues, it was evident that Coach Stoops and his staff are starting to figure out where on the field they need to put their pieces to win.
While some people, and more than a few within the Big Blue Nation, dismissed the Kentucky victory over Tennessee in 2011 because of the turmoil within the Volunteer program, a win over Florida wouldn’t have any such qualifiers. The Gators enter the game ranked at #20 in the country and are coming off BCS bowl appearance. As far as I’m concerned, the Gators loss to Louisville in the Sugar Bowl started this year of the Cardinal nonsense, so a Kentucky victory on Saturday will finally make Florida pay for its transgression. A victory over Florida would not only end the streak, but will continue the momentum that Coach Stoops started when he arrived in Lexington and further validate that the football Cats are on the right course. Based on the Louisville game, Stoops has already shown that the Wildcats have a chance to win. And sometimes, a chance is all it takes. One shot. One opportunity.