Kentucky hasn’t beaten Florida in more than three decades. It’s a losing streak that has featured several close calls in the past 31 years including a 28-27 setback last year at Kroger Field.
Despite the skid — the fourth longest in the nation — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops isn’t looking back on his previous five encounters against the Gators, including a 45-7 loss in his last trip to Gainesville two years ago. Three of the Wildcats’ last four setbacks to Florida have been by a combined margin of 12 points.
Stoops isn’t worried about the past. He’s more concerned about Saturday’s Southeastern Conference opener between the two teams.
“We need to focus on it because it’s this year,” Stoops said this week. “It’s an SEC team, it’s in the East and we want to win some football games. They’re next on the schedule, and that’s truthfully what it is about. These guys cannot worry about 30-some years and all that. They really can’t. Winning is important to our team each and every week, and that’s the approach we’ll have.”
Stoops plans to talk to his team about the losing streak but will focus on Mississippi State’s old playbook more than the Gators. Florida coach Dan Mullen spent the previous nine seasons in Starkville before making a return to the Swamp last November. Mullen’s Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats 45-7 last season in Starkville.
Florida opened with a 53-6 blowout win over Charleston Southern in Mullen’s debut in Gainesville last weekend.
“Obviously we’ll watch the film,” Stoops said. “We’ll go back to last year and Mississippi State, and we’ll watch quite a bit of that. … With the opponent they opened with they didn’t have to tip off too much of what they’re gonna do. But we don’t expect them to vary very much from what he did at Mississippi State. We’ll be prepared for all that. We broke them down in the offseason.”
The Wildcats defeated Central Michigan 35-20 in its season opener last week at Kroger Field. Although not a perfect performance and a tale of two halves, Stoops was pleased with the victory.
“I thought we did some good things,” the Kentucky coach said. “After watching the film I was re- ally proud of a lot of things we did this past Saturday. It’s always good getting the opener under your belt and getting that victory. It’ll make it much easier to be hard on our players this week about certain aspects of the game that we need to clean up and get better.”
As for his own team, Stoops remained upbeat on quarterbacks Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak, both of whom played in last week’s season-opener. Wilson is listed as the starter on the depth chart and will likely be the starter against UF.
“I think there are some things that are easy fixes, but there are that are going to be a work in progress,” Stoops said. “We have to get on that quickly. The last time we broke in a new quarterback two years ago, our turnovers were up and last year Stephen did a great job and our team did a great job and our turnovers were really down outside of the one game where it goes contagious. That can’t happen again. I know we’ll concentrate on protecting the football.”
Last weekend, protecting the football was a concern. The Wildcats committed four turnovers, including two fumbles. Overall, Ken- tucky fumbled the ball away three times, recovering one of those miscues, but Stoops isn’t pushing the panic button.
Gametracker: Kentucky at Florida, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.
Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today.