It’s prove-it time for the Kentucky football program.
At 4-0, the Wildcats feel like they are ready to compete with the Southeastern Conference’s big boys. And with No. 10 Florida coming to Lexington for a big East Division contest Saturday night, opportunity is literally knocking on the big blue door.
How will Kentucky answer?
“I think our players know that we can play with anybody if we play well,” said Wildcats coach Mark Stoops. “That’s the point where we’ve gotten to as a program. But we still have to do that.
“We have to have a great week. We have to play well. We have to prepare well. We have to control what we can and execute at the highest level.”
While Tennessee is historically Kentucky’s biggest football rival, it’s the Gators who have traditionally dispensed the cruelest outcomes, particularly since Stoops was hired after the 2012 season to build a program that could do in football what the Wildcats have done for generations in basketball.
Kentucky is 1-7 against Florida under Stoops with at least four losses harder to swallow than a plate of offal. One of those losses included 2017, when the Wildcats squandered a 13-point fourth-quarter lead and lost 28-27.
Another was the result of a controversial call in 2014 that helped the Gators pull out a 36-30 triple overtime win. And in 2015, Kentucky managed just three field goals, but had the chance to win with two fourth-quarter possessions.
That was one of 16 straight Florida wins at Kroger Field, which will be sold out for what insiders around the Kentucky program believe can be its breakthrough game. The Cats are 2-0 in the conference, thanks to last week’s 16-10 win at South Carolina.
“We’ll have our hands full, but we’re really looking forward to having a great home atmosphere this weekend,” Stoops said.
The Gators (3-1, 1-1) come into this one after handling Tennessee 38-14 last week. Some wondered if Florida would suffer an emotional letdown after nearly shocking top-ranked Alabama (31-29) on Sept. 18, but the Gators took a lead just before halftime and pulled away from the Vols in the second half.
Quarterback Emory Jones paced Florida with arguably the best game of his career. Jones completed 21 of 27 passes for 209 yards while running for 144 yards, making him the first Gators’ QB to pull off the 200-100 double since Tim Tebow did it in 2009.
“I was just processing information, processing the defenses and I was doing that pretty smooth,” Jones said. “I made quick decisions. That’s me feeling more comfortable out there, from what I know about myself.
“Overall, it was a pretty good performance by me, but there were a lot of things I could still do better and a couple of mistakes I still made.”
After being intercepted five times in the first three games, Jones avoided a pick against Tennessee. And at least for now, the talk of inserting redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson has died down.
Florida will need that version of Jones in its first real road test. The Gators did win at South Florida on Sept. 11, but the Bulls are nowhere near the level of opposition that the Wildcats will provide this weekend.
“It’s such a challenge from one weekend to the next,” said Florida coach Dan Mullen.
–Field Level Media