LEXINGTON (AP) — Kentucky nearly ended a generation of misery against Florida last year when the Wildcats battled the Gators to three overtimes before falling 36-30 in The Swamp.
The Wildcats’ takeaway from their 28th straight loss to the Gators was a belief they could compete, and the goal now is carrying that confidence into finally ending the streak.
Not to mention, silencing those annoying annual questions the string has created.
“It’s been brought up every time because it’s been a long time since we beat Florida,” Kentucky linebacker Denzil Ware said. “We’re just trying to snap the streak.”
Having snapped a couple of droughts with last week’s 26-22 upset at South Carolina, Kentucky (2-0, 1-0) is determined to halt its biggest streak against Florida (2-0, 0-0) in Saturday night’s Southeastern Conference showdown. The Wildcats had lost 22 straight SEC road games dating back to 2009, while their woes in Columbia went back to 1999.
Now Kentucky seeks its first 3-0 start since 2010. The Wildcats’ prospects against the Gators have rarely looked better, though Tennessee felt the same way last year before losing 10-9 at home to Florida.
“I know we can play a lot better and there are a lot of things that we need to get ironed out and fixed,” Wildcats coach Mark Stoops said. “What’s great is we have a great opportunity this week against a very good team that has beaten us for a very long time and we have to go do something about it.”
Florida beat East Carolina 31-24 last week and ranks high in several SEC offensive categories, including scoring (46 points per game). The Gators also are holding opponents to 26 yards rushing per contest in particular.
Not surprisingly, the Gators are just as determined to maintain their dominance over Kentucky while trying to remain unbeaten under first-year coach Jim McElwain.
“They’re hungry,” Florida safety Keanu Neal said of Kentucky. “They wanna beat us, so we can’t think about we beat them so many times because that’ll just make us take them for granted in a sense. (We’re) just going in and playing, thinking of them as a nameless, faceless opponent.”
Other things to watch when Kentucky hosts Florida:
HATCHER RETURNS: Kentucky junior defensive end/outside linebacker Jason Hatcher is back after a two-game suspension for a violation of team rules. Though senior Jabari Johnson will likely start, Hatcher’s return and experience beefs up the Wildcats’ pressure on the edge.
GRIER GETS THE CALL: Redshirt freshman Will Grier will make his second straight start at quarterback for Florida, aiming to lock up the job after passing for 151 yards and two touchdowns against East Carolina. Kentucky expects to see sophomore Treon Harris, who started the opener, but McElwain is sticking with the hot hand.
SUDDEN STAR: Freshman cornerback Chris Westry played a big hand in Kentucky’s victory over the Gamecocks with a sack and a key pass breakup before sealing the outcome with an interception. The 6-foot-4 Westry has six tackles in two starts and was named SEC freshman of the week.
GATORS’ HEALTH: All-SEC cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (leg) is probable after missing last week’s contest. Neal is also expected back after missing two games with an injured hamstring. Left tackle Martez Ivey could make his debut after having arthroscopic knee surgery last month.
PAYING TRIBUTE: Kentucky players will wear helmet stickers to raise awareness of prostate cancer in honor of former SEC Commissioner Mike Slive. Former Wildcat defensive end Art Still will also be recognized for his upcoming induction into the College Football Hall of Fame.