Is This The Year Kentucky Beats Florida?
One week ago, the Kentucky Wildcats went into Columbia, South Carolina and knocked off the Gamecocks for a fourth straight season. It is the first time the Wildcats have defeated an SEC team four times in a row (other than Vanderbilt) since the 1948-1951 series against Florida.
Fast forward 66 years and Kentucky is on the bad end of a losing streak to the Gators. However, momentum seems to be on the side of the Cats so is this the year Kentucky beats Florida?
An Impressive Road Win
After a shaky first few minutes of the game, Mark Stoops‘ club dominated the Gamecocks. Deebo Samuel took a Jake Bentley pass 68 yards to the house to begin the game. South Carolina had not only the momentum, but the huge crowd in Williams-Brice Stadium was rocking. However, it was short-lived as Eddie Gran‘s offense began firing.
After struggling in the first two games behind Benjamin Snell Jr., the Cats found success running the Wildcat. Snell rushed 32 times for 103 yards and two touchdowns. Quarterback Stephen Johnson did what he does best, win football games. Since taking over as starter, Johnson is 9-4. As a comparison, Heisman winner Lamar Jackson is 8-5 in his last 13 games.
Johnson finished the game 16-25, passing for 169 yards with an interception. In addition, he ran the ball seven times for 74 yards, including a 54-yard gain to cement the win. His stats don’t always impress, but he gets the job done in the clutch.
For the game, Kentucky rushed for 184 yards and dominated the time of possession for an amazing 37 minutes. On the flip side, the Kentucky defense held Carolina to 54 yards rushing and forced two turnovers. So far in the 2017 season, Matt House‘s defense ranks third in the nation in rushing defense with 57 yards per game.
Scouting the Gators
Jim McElwain’s club comes into Saturday’s match up with a 1-1 record. In their season opener, the Gators were hammered by Michigan 33-17. After their game against Northern Colorado was cancelled due to Hurricane Irma, the Gators beat Tennessee 26-20. Quarterback Feleipe Franks hit Tyrie Cleveland with a last second Hail Mary to win the game.
The Gators have not been nearly as dominant over the last few years as they have previously. Part of the Gators’ perceived slip nationally can be attributed to quarterback play. During the three years Tim Tebow was the man in Gainesville, Florida went 35-6 and won a national championship. Since his departure, Florida “only” sports a 56-35 mark. While most schools would love to have that record, that doesn’t cut it in “The Swamp.”
McElwain looks to have found the answer in Franks, but the freshman will be playing on the road for the first time. Kentucky has sold out Kroger Field for the first time in two years and the atmosphere in Lexington will be crazy.
The last time Kentucky knocked off Florida was November 15, 1986, when the Cats won 10-3 in Lexington. This is the longest current winning streak against a club in college football.
To give you a taste of what the world was like nearly thirty years ago check this out.
Tomorrow's so far away, there's something I just have to say… pic.twitter.com/K658kmheuZ
— Paul Finebaum (@finebaum) September 20, 2017
In addition, Mark Stoops was a defensive back at Iowa, while McElwain was a graduate assistant at Eastern Washington. While the streak remains on the minds of the Big Blue Nation and the media, Stoops is downplaying it.
Speaking at his weekly news conference he said, “Honestly, I haven’t addressed that before, it’s never been my approach. These guys haven’t been here for 30 years. We’ll see. I’ll go with my gut on how much we’ll talk about that or if at all…I have great confidence in our team that that won’t affect us at all.”
While most of the games have been blowouts over the last three decades, in more recent years the Wildcats have come close to winning. Most notably was 2014, in which the Cats lost 36-30 in triple overtime after a blown call helped the Gators to a touchdown.
Three years ago today, Kentucky beat Florida for the first time in 28 years. pic.twitter.com/Wj0rGSJeAk
— Not Jerry Tipton (@NotJerryTipton) September 14, 2017
After ending a 26-year losing streak to Tennessee back in 2011, whether they talk about it or not, the coaching staff really wants this win.
Who Wins on Saturday?
Time to answer the question: Is This The Year Kentucky Beats Florida? The Cats have a ton of momentum coming into this SEC East clash on Saturday. Over the last 14 games, the Wildcats’ record is 10-4, second in the conference to Alabama at 13-1. A win here and UK will likely start 6-0 heading to Mississippi State on October 21st.
Florida’s defense ranks 107th in rushing defense giving up 199 yards per game. Look for a healthy dose of Snell early and often on Saturday. If the Cats run the ball effectively, that will open up the passing game. Look for C.J. Conrad to get a lot of looks along with Garrett Johnson and Tavin Richardson.
The Florida defense has made a living off turnovers so far this season. The Gators have three touchdowns off interceptions in two games, so limiting mistakes will be crucial to the Wildcats success.
On the other side of the ball the Wildcats have had a tendency to give up big plays, so keeping Franks in check is going to be huge. In addition, keeping Cleveland and Malik Davis from breaking loose will be key for a defense, who will be without Jordan Jones once again.
Look for a back and forth contest that could come down to special teams. In the end “Mr. Clutch”, Austin Macginnis, will kick a field goal late to give the Cats the lead. They may have to hold off a last ditch effort from Franks, but in the end Kentucky finally breaks the streak.
Kentucky 24 Florida 21
Thanks for checking out Is This the Year Kentucky Beats Florida? here at Last Word on College Football. Up next for the Wildcats is a game against Eastern Michigan.