The streak had reached 31 years. In spite of better sense, this columnist had occasionally picked Kentucky to beat Florida in football, but had gradually come to a decision. Why pick it until it had actually happened? Last year, Kentucky ended the streak and a woebegone era of mostly mediocre football. UK upset Florida in the Swamp 27-16, and began the magic that ended in a 10-3 season and a Citrus Bowl victory.
A year later, here’s Kentucky, again with a chip on its shoulder. The 2-0 Wildcats had gotten a measure of respect, but much of that fled in the late third quarter of Saturday’s win over Eastern Michigan, when starting QB Terry Wilson torn his patellar tendon on a tackle from behind. Kentucky is roughly an eight-point underdog to Florida at home Saturday night at Kroger Field.
Tabbed as the underdog again, Kentucky has a chance to make a bold and significant statement about life after Benny Snell, Josh Allen, and the outstanding senior class that dominated much of UK’s 2018 season. Maybe, just maybe, Kentucky really was that good. Beating Florida would underline that statement in a hurry.
The Gators, like the Wildcats, are 2-0, winning ugly over Miami (Florida) 24-20 and then thumping FCS UT-Martin last week, 45-0. Florida also finished last season 10-3, despite losing at home to UK. The Gators defeated Michigan in the Peach Bowl and finished a few notches ahead of UK in the final rankings.
The Gators are currently 8th in one major poll and 9th in the other. They beat Miami mostly with a suffocating defense, which sacked Miami QB Jarren Williams (former UK commit) ten times. That said, the Gator offense has been inconsistent. QB Feleipe Franks struggled with turnovers against Miami, and the Gators have only two runs of longer than 16 yards in their first two games. The leading Florida rusher for the season has just 93 yards on the ground.
Florida’s defense is stout, allowing just 70.5 rushing yards per game in their first two games. Florida will likely be without DB C.J. Henderson, one of their best players, as well as RB Kadarius Toney, who is a big-play threat for their offense.
The Gators do pass the ball well, with a multitude of talented receivers who will challenge UK’s secondary. Their second year under coach Dan Mullen sees them with a chance to close in on Georgia at the top of the SEC East… if they can get past Kentucky.
The Wildcats beat Eastern Michigan 38-17 after scoring the game’s first two touchdowns and never leading by less than that margin again. Other than the injury to Wilson and some dinking and dunking yardage allowed in the pass defense game, the Wildcats looked solid. RB Kavosiey Smoke continued to impress, amassing 170 yards and two scores on just 18 carries so far. After the injury to Wilson, backup QB Sawyer Smith went 5 for 9 for 76 yards and two scores.
Kentucky’s defense has fared well against the run, and while the passing defense hasn’t always been pretty, there’s been a bend-but-don’t-break aspect that has served the Wildcats well. The sudden news of the immediate eligibility of Florida State transfer Xavier Peters can’t hurt the Wildcats, either.
After years of assuming that Kentucky was inferior to the Gators, there’s no reason to assume that anymore. Kentucky should go toe-to-toe with Florida on Saturday. While the loss of Terry Wilson does present something of an emotional downer for the Wildcats, Smith is far from untested, playing well at Troy last season and displaying nice touch on his passes in his appearance against Eastern Michigan.
For 31 years, Florida owned Kentucky. After saying I’d never pick Kentucky again until I saw them win that game, I’ve seen it. And so I’ll pick them again until they show me a reason otherwise.
UK 28, Florida 27
Other SEC Predictions:
Georgia 52, Arkansas State 7
Mississippi State 38, Kansas State 20
Tennessee 45, Chattanooga 3
Alabama 45, South Carolina 3
Mississippi 51, Southeast Louisiana 7
Arkansas 28, Colorado State 21
Auburn 52, Kent State 0
Texas A&M 49, Lamar 6
LSU 63, Northwestern State 0
Missouri 49, Southeast Missouri 7
Joe Cox is contributing editor for KySportsStyle.com Magazine. He grew up in Letcher County and Bell County and has written eight books. His most recent, "A Fine Team Man: Jackie Robinson and the Lives He Changed," was released in February 2019 and can be ordered on Amazon or at many local bookstores. Joe is an attorney and lives in Logan County with his wife and children. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org