Cats seek to end Florida losing streak

Published 1:45 pm Friday, September 22, 2017

LEXINGTON — It’s been three decades since Kentucky has beaten Florida on the football field. Although the series has been lopsided for the past 30 years in favor of the Gators, the Wildcats came close to ending the losing streak two years ago in Gainesville before the hosts yanked out a 36-30 victory in triple overtime.

Although the Florida is no longer the “Fun and Gun” teams the school employed under Steve Spurrier in the 1990s, they are still one of the most formidable teams in the Southeastern Conference. Florida captured the SEC East title a year ago and opened league play with a 26-20 triumph over Tennessee last weekend, beating the Volunteers on a “Hail Mary” touchdown pass as time expired.

In last year’s meeting between the two foes, it was no contest as Florida rolled to a 45-7 rout of the Wildcats, a loss that followed a season-opening setback to Southern Mississippi. Despite the embarrassing loss, Kentucky defensive back Derrick Baity doesn’t foresee a similar finish this time around.

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“I didn’t feel like we put up enough fight,” Baity said earlier this week. “We just came in and laid down. It hurt just to see our team do that, but I don’t think we have that mentality anymore. We have 11 people on the field at one time an there’s not one person who has that mentality to lose. This is a different team, different players — we’re all in. That’s all I can say, we’re all in.”

Like Baity, Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said the Wildcats have taken on a different approach through the first three games and feels like his team will succeed.

“I have a lot of confidence going into the game,” Stoops said. “That again I feel good about how the guys are preparing. The structure of things, there is going to be big plays in the run game and pass game, it’s going to happen. But you know I just feel confident that whatever happens, we can get corrected and move on to the next play. That feels very good. It feels different in that regard. I feel like we have guys that take great pride in the way we are going about our work, each yard and each first down. You have to have a mentality that those yards and first downs are personal. We are starting to feel that in this group.”

The team’s togetherness has been evident during the first three weeks if the season. The Wildcats are off to a 3-0 start for the first time in seven years and coming off a 23-13 win at South Carolina, the team’s second road win of the year. Although obviously improved, the contest against the Gators will help gauge the team’s overall progress.

In preparation for the first sellout of the season at Kroger Field, Stoops said he doesn’t need to use a lot of motivational material to get the Wildcats ready for an early showdown that will put the winner in the driver’s seat in the SEC East. The Kentucky coach added the Wildcats can’t emulate last year’s dismal showing in Gainesville.

“We (did) watch that (tape of last year’s loss) because that’s very recent and you can’t make the same mistakes again,” Stoops said. “Obviously we will have to watch that game film, which again should be no problem with motivating us because we did not play very good.”

Stoops has been on both sides of the rivalry against the Gators and was part of coaching staffs at Miami and Florida State that dominated the series between the two rivals before taking over at UK. Stoops would like nothing more than to start a winning streak against the Gators at Kentucky.

“At one time it was ridiculous how much on the winning end I was and I’ve got to get that going again here,” Stoops said. “When I was at Miami, I don’t think I lost to any Florida school, when I was at Florida State I don’t think I lost to any Florida school, and so on. The only thing that I always see when you play a team like that is that they are really good athletes. A lot of good players and very explosive.”

Greg Nord, special teams coordinator and tight ends coach at Florida, played at Kentucky from 1974-78 and was part of four victories over the Gators while he was a player and assistant coach with the Wildcats. Nord also coached at Louisville and returned for a stint with the Wildcats from 2011-12. Although an alumnus, Nord doesn’t feel sorry for the Wildcats and said Kentucky’s past teams “were just competitors at that time” and said there’s more pressure on the Wildcats to end the streak.

“As far as programs growing, where we’re at now, we’re one of the elite programs in the country and they’re not,” he said. “So it probably means more to them than it does to us as far as the streak.”

Stoops said he’s not concerned about the added pressure and doesn’t think the Wildcats will suffer a letdown following the win at South Carolina last weekend.

“I’m not worried about losing the motivation at all,” he said. “It’s about staying consistent in our preparation. I have no reason to believe that this team won’t do that … the guys seem pretty locked in. It’s been a good, solid week.”