UK Football

Streak-buster over Tennessee gives UK faith at Florida

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback  Matt Roark (3) got a lift off the field after  Kentucky defeated Tennessee 10-7  on Saturday October 26, 2011  in Lexington, Ky.  Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Matt Roark (3) got a lift off the field after Kentucky defeated Tennessee 10-7 on Saturday October 26, 2011 in Lexington, Ky. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff

Kentucky has been in this position before.

It has been on the wrong side of the nation's longest active winning streak.

Last season, that streak of 26 straight losses against Tennessee came to a screeching halt to the cheers and screeches of a relieved UK fan base.

But as soon as that streak ended, Kentucky was at the top of the list again, this time with its 25 consecutive losses to Florida, dating back to 1986.

The most unlikely of victories over the Volunteers last season (using a wide receiver at quarterback no less) gives many of UK's players hope that they can pull the upset at No. 14 Florida on Saturday afternoon.

"Anything can happen when you're playing hard and playing your heart out and you know you can win," junior running back Jonathan George said.

When asked about ending that streak over the Vols last season, senior defensive lineman Collins Ukwu said the Cats are in the same position this year.

"At that time last year, a lot of people didn't have a lot of faith in us winning that game," Ukwu said. "A lot of people thought Tennessee would win that game. We stuck with each other and we stuck (together) for those seniors.

"It's the same thing this season."

If the Cats could pull off a similar upset — this time as a 24-point underdog at The Swamp, where UK hasn't won since 1979 — it wouldn't exactly be the same thing.

"If we can go down to The Swamp and beat them, that would be something special," UK quarterback Maxwell Smith said. "They're a really good team."

That would be an understatement.

Remember that Western Kentucky team that beat UK 32-31 in overtime last weekend? This defense will be similar, offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said, before adding this caveat:

"We're going to get a bunch of big, angry guys over on the other side," he said of the Gators' defense, which is ranked No. 35 in the nation and No. 29 in run defense.

"Defensively, scheme-wise, they're probably very similar to what we saw last week. Not just like it but very similar. But obviously, the speed and size and strength is increasing."

The Gators, with one of the nation's best running games led by senior Mike Gillislee's four touchdowns, will be a huge test for a UK rushing defense that is ranked near the bottom of the nation.

And the unbeaten Gators (3-0) have a new offense under coordinator Brent Pease, who moved to Florida from Boise State.

"I used to watch Boise State as a spectator and I'd say, 'Man, that's really one of the better offenses I've ever seen,'" UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter told the media this week. "I'm talking execution, diversity, razzle-dazzle execution, well that's now what (Florida) is. It's Boise State offense with really fast players."

And it's an offense that is scoring fast, including last week, when all four of Florida's touchdown drives were three plays or fewer. In that game against Tennessee, Florida had 555 yards of total offense, the school's most since 2001.

UK's young, inexperienced defense is allowing 399.3 yards a game.

The Gators have scored on eight of their nine trips to the red zone.

"This team is a lot more explosive in terms of speed and power," Coach Joker Phillips said when asked if this Gators team is similar to the strong Florida teams of the past. "They look like Florida of old, they do. They've got a lot of speed at every position."

Florida has speed and power and momentum.

But Kentucky (1-2) has a chance, its players said, despite the fact that the Gators have outscored UK 200-36 in the last four games.

A chance is all the Cats need, they said.

Just remember Tennessee.

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