UK Football

One loss last year still eats at Kentucky. ‘You can’t hide from the elephant in the room.'

Kentucky fans reacted to last season's 28-27 loss to Florida at Kroger Field. It was UK’s 31st consecutive loss to the Gators in football.
Kentucky fans reacted to last season's 28-27 loss to Florida at Kroger Field. It was UK’s 31st consecutive loss to the Gators in football. aslitz@herald-leader.com

Josh Allen is not looking forward to his trip to The Swamp early this season.

It’s not because Kentucky hasn’t won there since 1979 or because the Cats are 4-28 in trips to Florida.

It’s not due to Kentucky’s 31-game losing streak to the Gators.

It’s the showers in the visitor’s locker room.

“A lot of them didn’t have soap or hot water,” Kentucky’s senior linebacker said at Southeastern Conference Media Days in Atlanta on Monday when asked about the worst visiting locker rooms in the league. “So a lot of us had to take cold showers. That kind of sucked.”

Allen is one of a brigade of Cats headed to Gainesville on Sept. 8 hoping to end the seemingly endless losing streak.

It wasn’t too terribly long into Mark Stoops’ media session Monday that the question came up.

“I always look forward to that annual question here,” the head coach said in the same way one describes looking forward to a root canal. “Until we get it done. I know. I’m not blaming you. I’m going to get it a thousand times between now and that game.”

In past years, Stoops would deflect questions about the streak, noting that he wasn’t too worried about it because those losses weren’t this current team’s losses.

That’s gotten harder in recent years. It feels more personal to Stoops and the players now, especially the recent losses in heart-stomping ways.

“You can’t hide from the elephant in the room,” Stoops continued. “It’s been a long time. We need to beat Florida.”

The game last season, which included the Gators scoring twice thanks to uncovered wide receivers, and a potential game-deciding run by Benny Snell being negated by a holding call in the final minute, is an especially bad memory for the Cats.

haynes
Kentucky guard Nick Haynes reacted after he was called for holding in the closing minutes against Florida at Kroger Field last season. The penalty negated a run by Benny Snell that would have put UK in range for a game-winning field goal. Michael Reaves

“For a majority of it, people probably thought we were the better team that game,” tight end C.J. Conrad said of last season’s loss at Kroger Field. “We played extremely well, but just didn’t finish the way we wanted to. It stings.”

There was a sting afterward, too, but UK still had games to play and the players had to put the disappointment behind them.

The disappointment and frustration was bottled up and dumped out this summer.

“We left the dwelling for the offseason,” Conrad said. “We used that to motivate us on a daily basis, not just that, but the other games we should have won.

“So we’re really, really motivated this year, not just because of this game. … We’re really excited to prove we’re going to be a different team this year.”

Kentucky had eight games — five wins and three losses — decided by 11 points or fewer last season. Five combined points were the deciding factor in the three UK losses, including that 28-27 head-scratcher to Florida.

UK running back Benny Snell talks about UK's 28-27 loss to Florida at Kroger Field on Saturday night.

“The Florida game fell through our hands,” Snell said. “Those were mistakes we made.”

If the Cats want to reach their goal this season of getting back to Atlanta for the Southeastern Conference championship game, a win over Florida needs to happen. The Gators return 20 starters (10 on offense and nine on defense) from last season when they went a disappointing 4-7 overall and replaced their head coach.

“We can’t think about it as Florida,” Conrad said. “We have to think about it as a game we want to win. That’s a little goal, but it’s not our ultimate goal. … We want to make it to an SEC championship. So that’s just one game on our radar.”

That game so early in the season could be a big boost for Kentucky, Snell said.

“Beating Florida is one of the things that’s going to change our season,” the junior said. “It’s going to be a season changer for us. It’s going to be a close game. It’s always a rivalry game. It’s always a fight until the end, but that’s something we’re looking forward to.”

And if Kentucky can get a victory at The Swamp over the Gators with new coach Dan Mullen (who owns an 8-1 record over the Cats), it might even be worth the freezing cold shower afterward.

“I just want the win,” Allen said. “I’ll take a shower at home.”

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