No. 25 Florida looks to continue dominance of Kentucky
Florida’s winning streak over Kentucky is into its fourth decade, but coach Dan Mullen does not buy that history will impact the outcome when the teams play Saturday at The Swamp in Gainesville, Fla.
“I don’t know what that has to do with this week,” Mullen said. “Our guys weren’t responsible for too many of those games.”
The No. 25 Gators (1-0) will open SEC play against Kentucky, a team it has beaten 31 consecutive times, dating to 1986. There have been some close calls of late, though, including last year, when Florida rallied from a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter to win 28-27 in Lexington, Ky.
Three of the past four meetings have been decided by a touchdown or less, including one game that went to three overtimes.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops, whose team beat Central Michigan 35-20 in its opener, knows how important it would be to snap that skid.
“I never dance around that question,” Stoops said. “It is important to us for that reason, but we can’t focus on it for that reason. We need to focus on it because it’s this year. It’s an SEC team, it’s in the East, and we want to win some football games and they are next on the schedule.
“That’s truthfully what it is about. These guys cannot worry about 30-some years and all that.”
As for this season, it could not have gone better for Mullen in his Florida debut as the Gators rolled to a 53-6 win over FCS opponent Charleston Southern. Redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks threw five touchdown passes, all in the first half, as the Gators raced to a 38-0 halftime lead.
Franks completed 16 of 24 passes for 219 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions, including a 3-yard jump-pass to Tyrie Cleveland for a touchdown, bringing back memories of Tim Tebow. Franks threw the five TD passes to four different receivers before sitting the second half after the Gators built their big halftime lead. Franks threw only nine touchdown passes all last season.
“Coach does a great job of making practice faster than the game so when I get in the game, it slows down,” Franks said. “It has really helped me a lot. We’re just scratching the surface.”
Wide receiver Van Jefferson, an Ole Miss transfer making his Florida debut, finished with four catches for 34 yards and two TDs.
On special teams, Florida blocked a pair of kicks, including one returned for a two-point conversion.
“I do like that our guys have a lot of confidence in what we did,” Mullen said. “But we have to get better.”
Specifically, Mullen said he wants to see improvement on both sides of the running game. Charleston Southern outgained Florida 222-203 on the ground.
Kentucky, led by preseason All-SEC running back Benny Snell, will present another challenge. Snell, a junior, posted the 13th 100-yard rushing game of his career with 125 yards on 20 carries against Central Michigan despite missing the pregame meal because of an undisclosed illness.
Sophomore running back A.J. Rose gave Kentucky a second 100-yard rusher last week with 104 yards on just eight carries, with 55 coming on a career-long dash in the first quarter.
“When he broke off that long one in the first half, it was nice watching him, because you saw another gear in a big, strong guy that can run like that,” Stoops said. “So it was good to see.”
Stoops used two quarterbacks last week — starter Terry Wilson and backup Gunnar Hoak. Wilson rushed for 38 yards and passed for 78. The big downside in his 11-of-18 day were two interceptions. Wilson was shaken up in the second quarter and left the game but returned in the second half.
Kentucky has a couple of standouts on defense to counter the Gators’ attack, including senior safety Mike Edwards and linebacker Josh Allen. Allen had a career-high three tackles for loss, including a sack, in the win over Central Michigan.
The senior, who has 15.5 career sacks, is rated No. 31 overall on NFLDraftScout.com’s initial ranking of 2019 draft prospects.