Kentucky has done virtually everything right while rolling
through non-conference opposition recently, and this year has been
no exception. To open SEC play, though, the Wildcats are going to a
place where it has gone all wrong many, many times.
The unbeaten Wildcats head to Gainesville, where they will try
to end a 23-game losing streak to No. 9 Florida and post their
first win in The Swamp since 1979.
First-year coach Joker Phillips has watched his offense execute
nearly flawlessly as Kentucky (3-0) has averaged 44.3 points and
497.3 yards without committing a turnover in three games. Mike
Hartline threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns while Derrick Locke
added a career-high 166 rushing yards and two scores in a 47-10
rout of Akron last week.
Hartline has passed for 680 yards and five touchdowns while
completing 72.0 percent of his passes, and Locke has 372 yards and
five TDs for Kentucky, which has won 18 straight non-conference
It’s been a different story for the Wildcats against Florida,
which they haven’t beaten since 1986. The losing streak to the
Gators is the second-longest active one in the FBS – trailing
Kentucky’s 25-game run of futility versus Tennessee – and 10th
“It’s something that everyone wants to here, you want to end
these streaks,” defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. “If you end a
streak here, you’ll go down forever in history.”
Forgetting their recent history at The Swamp might be a good
idea for the Wildcats. They have lost 15 in a row at Gainesville
and gave up four touchdowns in the first 11:45 of a 63-5 loss there
Last year’s meeting at Lexington was also a disaster for
Kentucky, as Florida (3-0, 1-0) again scored four first-quarter TDs
and rolled to a 41-7 victory.
“You’ve got to keep your head,” Lumpkin said. “Florida’s one of
those places, things can get away from you pretty quickly.”
Continuing to play turnover free will be a challenge against a
Gators defense that has been exceptional while the offense finds
its bearings. Florida has recorded 10 interceptions – three by
safety Ahmad Black – among its 12 takeaways and limited opponents
to 14.3 points per game and a 27.5 percent conversion rate on third
The Gators shut down Tauren Poole in a 31-17 win at Tennessee on
Saturday, limiting the tailback to 23 yards. They forced three
turnovers, including a key interception by Jeremy Brown that helped
sustain Florida’s momentum in the third quarter and led to a
“Defense played well,” coach Urban Meyer said. “I think we only
gave up, I believe, 29 yards rushing and other than two lost
coverages, I thought our defense played very well.”
As the defense has shined, the offense is still adjusting to the
loss of Tim Tebow to the NFL. There have been snap issues between
quarterback John Brantley and converted center Mike Pouncey, the
lack of a go-to player to get tough yards aside from tailback
Jeffrey Demps and an inconsistent receiving corps following the
dismissal of Chris Rainey.
Brantley threw a touchdown pass and Demps grinded out 73 yards
versus Tennessee, but it was Meyer’s decision to call a fake punt
that sparked the offense. Omarius Hines raced 36 yards to further
the drive, which Brantley capped with a 7-yard touchdown pass to
give the Gators the lead for good.
“Until we get a little better, we’re going to have to do things
like that and find a way to win a game,” said Meyer, whose next
win will be his 100th.
Brantley has thrown for 452 yards and five touchdowns without an
interception, while Demps has 310 rushing yards and is averaging
6.9 per carry.