Cats seek first home victory over Gators in 33 years


Kentucky running back Benny Snell Jr. dodges a tackler during the game against the Florida Gators on Saturday, September 23, 2017 in Lexington, Ky. Kentucky was defeated 28-27. Photo by Carter Gossett | Staff

Mohammad Ahmad

“Ding dong, the streak is dead!”

Those were UK Sports Network announcer Tom Leach’s words over the radio immediately after the UK football team knocked off the Florida Gators in Gainesville, Florida, last season, 27-16.

That was the Cats’ first win in Gainesville since 1979. But more importantly for Cats’ fans, that was UK’s first win over the Gators since 1986, when the Cats won 10-3 in Lexington, to end a 31-game losing streak – the longest in-conference streak in SEC football history.

Now the quest for the Cats will be that elusive home victory against Florida. The last time Florida came to town two years ago, they defeated the Cats, 28-27, after a holding call on then-Cats’ lineman Nick Haynes negated a Benny Snell run that would have put the Cats in comfortable field goal position in the game’s waning seconds.

The top-10 ranked Gators (2-0, 0-0 SEC) will come back to Lexington to face Kentucky (2-0, 0-0 SEC) in what will be a conference opener for both teams. Florida opened their season with a close, 24-20, week zero victory over intrastate rival Miami Hurricanes in Orlando. The Gators made a statement in their 45-0 blanking of the Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks this past weekend.

Gators’ quarterback Feleipe Franks has thrown for 524 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions while rushing for 58 yards and a touchdown thus far this season. By his side will be a slew of veterans in running back Lamical Perine and the receiving tandem of Van Jefferson and Josh Hammond.

The Gators’ defense currently leads the SEC in total sacks with 15. Lineman Jabari Zuniga’s three sacks and linebacker Ventrell Miller’s two have helped pave the way for the stout rush defense. Lineman Kyree Campbell has a team-leading 10 tackles and a sack to go with that.

The biggest question mark for the Cats is how backup quarterback Sawyer Smith will do in place of the injured Terry Wilson. Wilson left last weekend’s game late in the third quarter after suffering a knee injury. Smith was 5-of-9 passing for 76 yards and two touchdowns in relief of Wilson.

Smith should get some help from a defense that has allowed 24 points or less in 15 of its last 16 games. Senior linebacker Kash Daniel had five tackles and an interception while fellow linebacker Josh Paschal had five tackles with a career-high two tackles for loss in the win over EMU. Veteran safety Jordan Griffin added an interception in what looked like an improved secondary.

UK hasn’t won back-to-back games against Florida since 1977 when Fran Curci was the Cats’ head coach, but the Cats have a chance to rewrite the rivalry in their favor this Saturday.