Florida’s record 28-game winning streak over Kentucky is a sore subject.
For the Gators.
Like family drama at Thanksgiving dinner, it’s omnipresent, but no one wants to talk about it.
“Nameless, faceless opponent,” Gators starting safety Keanu Neal said, when asked about UF’s winning streak.
“All that stuff is in the past. It’s a new team. They’re hungry. 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. Just going in and playing, thinking of them as a nameless, faceless opponent.”
Added Gators coach Jim McElwain: “Obviously, that’s a pretty big number. … But each game, each year is a different team. … We’re as far from being overconfident in anything we do based on what we’ve been through.”
UF (2-0) survived a triple-overtime thriller against Kentucky (2-0) last season, so the Gators are well aware of the stiff test they will face against Mark Stoops’ steadily improving team on Saturday night.
The Wildcats are confident that this is the year they can finally exercise over a quarter century of demons, and former UF coach Steve Spurrier, whose South Carolina team lost at home to Kentucky last weekend, said: “They’re certainly capable [of beating Florida].”
The Wildcats are, so the Gators have spent the week addressing their many flaws that were exposed last weekend.
“Obviously, no one wants to end the streak,” senior guard Trip Thurman said. “But it’s about us. It’s not what they’re going to do. It’s about what we need to do.”
Following a lackluster win over East Carolina, McElwain ripped into his team over its preparation and focus.
It wasn’t much better Monday, as the offense dropped over a dozen passes during a drill against air, leaving offensive coordinator Doug Nuessmeier livid.
“Challenge yourselves,” he screamed, spiking a football.
it’s ‘about us’
Practices on Tuesday and Wednesday were much better, though, as the Gators finally embraced McElwain’s stern message.
“They’re a great team, but at the end of the day it’s going to be about us,” defensive tackle Jordan Sherit said. “If we take care of the things we [need] to take care of, we read our keys, play assignment, sound football, take care of the football, play well on special teams and don’t get penalties, I think a lot of teams will have a tough time beating us.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier, making his second start in a row, will play on the road for the first time, but sophomore Treon Harris is likely to see some time, too.
While McElwain hopes one quarterback seizes the job, he’s more concerned with the Gators’ supporting cast elevating its play around the two inexperienced signal callers.
“It isn’t just them,” said McElwain, referring to UF’s quarterbacks shouldering the blame for the team’s issues.
“A lot of it goes back to the other 10 around the guys, as well, that we’ve gotta get shored up. … I’m more concerned that we’ve got to continue to get better at the other positions, as well to develop some consistency.”
Florida’s inexperienced offensive line, one that has the fewest combined starts in the SEC, hasn’t dominated lesser competition, and the Gators’ tailbacks have yet to truly break out, averaging 4.81 yards per carry.
They will get that chance Saturday night.
Kentucky ranks 111th — allowing 221 yards per game — in rush defense, and if the Wildcats sell out to stop the run, it could be another monster night for UF wideout Demarcus Robinson, who torched Kentucky for 216 yards and two touchdowns last season.
Between the streak, last weekend’s listless performance and Kentucky hyping a raucous “blue-out” crowd, Florida is embracing its own opportunity to make a statement.
“Personally, I love to play on the road, going into the hostile environment,” said McElwain, a former quarterback.
“There’s something that kind of elevates true competitors when they’re booing you, throwing stuff at you, calling you names. That’s always kind of fun.”
Kickoff: 7:30 p.m.; Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.
TV/radio: SECN; WINZ 940.
Favorite: Florida by 31/2.
Records: Florida 2-0 (0-0 SEC); Kentucky 2-0 (1-0 SEC).
Series: Florida leads 48-17.
Florida injuries: Questionable — TE C’yontal Lewis (hand); QB Josh Grady (leg); WR Raphael Andrades. Out — LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder); LB Matt Rolin (back); DB Kylan Johnson (leg).
Kentucky injuries: Questionable — LB Kobie Walker (ankle); LB Ryan Flannigan (shoulder).