Landon Young is from Lexington. Kentucky’s left offensive tackle played at Lafayette High School. He grew up in the state. He knows what it would mean to be part of the team that finally ended the 30-game losing streak to Florida.
“That would be huge,” Young said Tuesday. “To be able to be on the team that comes in here and breaks that would be something huge because that’s our team representing the state that I’ve been in my whole life.”
Charles Walker concurs. UK’s senior wide receiver is from Louisville. He played high school football at St. Xavier. He realizes the significance.
“Definitely, but we don’t really talk about it,” he said. “We weren’t there, we weren’t even born the last time we beat them, whenever (that was). We’re just focused on what we can do.”
Since Florida first placed its invisible grip on the Cats back in 1987, rarely has Kentucky been in a more favorable position for the annual meeting. Mark Stoops’ club is 3-0 on the season, 1-0 in the SEC. It has won 10 of its last 13 regular-season games, including five of nine conference games.
We weren’t there, we weren’t even born the last time we beat them, whenever (that was).
Kentucky senior receiver Charles Walker
That doesn’t mean snapping the streak will be easy, however. Far from it. When a query at his weekly Monday press luncheon began with the assertion that Florida was not as formidable as past years, the Kentucky coach scoffed.
“You’re crazy,” he said. “I’ve watched them play and they’re the same Florida team. They’re a very, very good football team. Don’t put words in my mouth.”
If the recent Gators have not reached the heights attained by previous coaches Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer, they have won the SEC East the past two seasons. Third-year head coach Jim McElwain is 6-6 outside the league but 14-3 inside. He is fresh off a dramatic 26-20 win over Tennessee.
Under new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon, who worked with Stoops at Miami in the 1990s, the Gators have returned three interceptions for touchdowns. Duke Dawson (46 yards) and C.J. Henderson (41) provided pick-sixes on back-to-back throws against Michigan. Henderson (16 yards) repeated the feat against Tennessee.
I’ve watched them play and they’re the same Florida team. They’re a very, very good football team.
UK Coach Mark Stoops
As widely noted, the Florida offense failed to produce a 2017 touchdown until the fourth quarter of the second game. Aside from the 63-yard Feleipe Franks to Tyrie Cleveland post pattern that beat UT, Florida is still looking for its first TD drive that began in its own territory.
And yet, through two games the Gators don’t look that far away from being a good offense. Franks, a redshirt freshman, was highly recruited and boasts obvious arm talent. True freshman Malik Davis had a 72-yard run against the Vols ruined when he was stripped of the football 2 yards from the end zone. With last year’s leading receiver Antonio Callaway suspended, Cleveland has assumed that mantle.
Then there’s true freshman receiver Kadarius Toney. He’s the Gator to watch, both Saturday and beyond. Early in the second quarter against Tennessee, Toney took a short Franks pass and made a dynamic move that left would-be tackler Emmanuel Moseley on his knees.
“He’s got great change of direction and he’s got big-play ability,” Stoops said Thursday. “There’s several of their guys that are like that. That’s why I say it’s a typical Florida team.”
Typically, Florida has handled Kentucky. Remember, Florida smothered Kentucky 45-7 a year ago in the The Swamp. In fact, UK is not allowed to forget. Corey Edmond, UK’s strength and conditioning coach, has it playing on a non-stop loop in the weight room. To the current players, that blistering in the Sunshine State stings more than the program’s 29 previous losses to Florida.
“Growing up, I was the biggest Florida Gators fan, I ain’t gonna lie about that,” UK linebacker Eli Brown, a Bowling Green native, said this week. “My dream is to beat Florida.”
FLORIDA AT KENTUCKY
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Kroger Field in Lexington
TV: SEC Network with Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel
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