Florida coach Jim McElwain was coaching quarterbacks and wide receivers at his alma mater Eastern Washington when the streak started.
It spans four decades, seven UF coaches, 29 games.
But on Saturday, when the Gators (1-0) open Southeastern Conference play against Kentucky (0-1) at 3:30 p.m. and aim for their 30th consecutive win in the series, McElwain is not looking at UF’s past success in the series to draw any conclusions.
“Right now it’s 0-0,” McElwain said. “These two teams have never played, and I think that’s the key.”
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The past two wins in the series probably don’t provide any room for comfort either.
In 2014, the Gators had to trudge out a 36-30 win in triple-overtime to squeeze past the Wildcats in a game that featured five lead changes in regulation. Last year, McElwain’s first as Florida’s coach, the Gators came away with a 14-9 win in Lexington but were shut out by the Wildcats in the second half. It took a timely fourth-quarter interception from former Fort Lauderdale University School standout Quincy Wilson to seal the game. Prior to those wins, Florida had won by more than six points in all but three meetings since the win streak began in 1987.
“These past couple of years they’ve really been showing up,” senior linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “When you used to watch a Kentucky game, you didn’t want to watch it that much. Now they’re really exciting to watch.”
Although Kentucky is coming off a 44-35 loss to Southern Miss, the Wildcats aren’t a team expected to simply roll over.
Quarterback Drew Barker threw for 323 yards and four touchdowns in Kentucky’s opener and had six pass attempts go for at least 30 yards, including a 72-yard catch-and-run to receiver Jeff Badet for the Wildcats’ first touchdown of the season. For comparison, Florida’s longest play in its opener against UMass went for 26 yards.
“He likes to throw the ball downfield,” Wilson said of Barker. “From what I see, he likes to take shots.”
Barker will be contrasted by Florida’s Luke Del Rio, who is looking to improve on a 256-yard, two-touchdown performance in the Gators’ 24-7 season-opening win against UMass.
Del Rio, a redshirt sophomore, showed flashes of his potential in the opener, leading the Gators on an 11-play touchdown drive on just his second possession and closing the game with three consecutive scoring drives.
While he started and finished strong, Del Rio struggled in between.
On the five drives he led during the second and third quarters, Del Rio threw for just 93 yards on 26 pass attempts.
“We just need to finish in the end zone,” Del Rio said. “We need to score touchdowns to win games.”
Del Rio will get that chance to score touchdowns on Saturday against Kentucky, and with that, the opportunity to extend a streak that has gone on since before he or any of his teammates were born.
But to McElwain, the focus isn’t on the streak. It’s not even about Kentucky.
It’s about Florida showing up and making the plays when it needs to.
“[With] great teams, the opponents don’t matter,” McElwain said. “... We’ve got to learn [that] the Florida Gators can’t be up and down.
“They’ve got to understand the level and certain standard in which you have to go about your business to be a champion.”
▪ UF receiver Rick Wells has signed a deferred prosecution agreement with the State Attorney’s Office, meaning he can avoid a conviction on his record if he meets a number of conditions.
Wells and fellow freshman Tyrie Cleveland were arrested in July for firing BB guns into an on-campus residence hall. The charge was reduced Tuesday from a felony to a misdemeanor.
Saturday: Kentucky @ Florida
Kickoff: 3:30 p.m.; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field, Gainesville.
Favorite: Florida by 16 1/2.
Records: Florida 1-0 (SEC); Kentucky 0-1 (SEC).
Series: Florida leads 49-17.
Florida injuries: Questionable — WR Chris Thompson (leg); WR Kalif Jackson (foot). Out — LB Daniel McMillian (ankle); WR Dre Massey (knee); DB C.J. McWilliams (ACL); OL Antonio Riles (knee).
Kentucky injuries: Questionable — DB Blake McClain (head); LB Josh Allen (shoulder); WR Dorian Baker (hamstring); WR Alexander Montgomery (knee). Out — DB Darius West (knee).