Column: Kentucky’s win over Florida signifies nothing but success going forward


Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Will Levis (7) throws a pass during the No. 20 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Florida football game on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. UK won 26-16. Photo by Jack Weaver | Staff

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

While a massive win on its own, Kentucky football’s win over then No. 12 Florida may go down as one of the most important of the season for the Wildcats.

It was said before the season even began and Florida conquered playoff hopeful Utah in week one that the trip to Gainesville would set the tone for the season as a whole, and now that it has passed, this still rings true.

While No. 12 may have been a bit high for the Gators in retrospect, the number next to their name and even their final record do not particularly matter too much as to the implications of UK’s victory.

Florida was by far Kentucky’s hardest test of the first four games before the season began, and even if the Gators finish with a losing record, that still appears to be the case over the likes of Miami Ohio, Northern Illinois and Youngstown State.

Despite coming off a MAC-winning season in 2021, the Huskies of NIU have rapidly regressed into a less than stellar program, barely squeaking by FCS Eastern Illinois in week one and falling prey to Tulsa in week two, also being favored to lose to Vanderbilt in week three.

Youngstown State is currently 2-0 with wins over Duquesne and Dayton, but ESPN matchup predictor favors Kentucky 97.7%, with the Penguins finishing the season prior 3-7 in the FCS.

Miami Ohio may be the best of the three in retrospect, but could hardly pose a threat to Kentucky after the first half of play, falling 37-13 in Lexington.
While the four-game focus may seem out of place without context, the recent announcement that starting running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. will be eligible to play for UK’s fifth game against Ole Miss solidifies that the first four games can be viewed in a bubble: how Kentucky played without one of its most important offensive assets.

Kentucky’s run game could hardly be described as “okay” without Rodriguez Jr., finishing the matchup against Florida with 70 rushing yards. Even with the low total, it was still an improvement from the negative-37 the Cats entered halftime with.

The Wildcats managed to do even worse in week one against Miami Ohio, amassing just 50 rushing yards compared to the Redhawks’ 111, with Kentucky entering halftime with 28 rushing yards in Lexington.

Clearly, Rodriguez Jr. is sorely missed on the offense.

Luckily, with the aforementioned easy non-conference schedule, now that the Cats have survived in Gainesville, they may not really feel the true weight of missing a starting running back the same way other programs would.

In defeating Florida, assuming Kentucky does not somehow lose to Youngstown State or NIU, Kentucky guaranteed it wouldn’t lose a game because of Rodriguez Jr.’s suspension and, while Ole Miss in Oxford is far from an easy matchup, Kentucky will surely have much more of a fighting chance in future road games as well.

Assuming Rodriguez Jr.’s return bolsters the run game the way it should, and the Cats prevail in Oxford, there is little standing in the way, barring maybe Tennessee in Knoxville, of truly stopping Kentucky from entering its matchup with No. 1 Georgia undefeated.

While a crazy prospect less than a decade ago, it’s entirely possible Kentucky will find itself in a tight battle not for second or third, but first place in the SEC East with a spot in the SEC Championship game and even the College Football Playoffs on the line.

This is not to say that Kentucky can overlook forces like Mississippi State and South Carolina, or even Ole Miss in Rodriguez Jr.’s first game back, but Kentucky’s odds have certainly improved.

Week three is far too early to properly predict how the season as a whole will go, but if there’s anything that is fair to say, it’s that Kentucky certainly did itself a massive favor beating Florida.

Without Rodriguez Jr. in “The Swamp” against a top 15 opponent, many fans and onlookers alike would have found numerous reasons to justify a loss for Kentucky and mitigated the potential negative implications coming from it, but in defying the odds and claiming victory the Wildcats ensured that all of those potentially far too large ambitions remain intact and possible for at least another week.

Whether or not those ambitions even come close to being met is impossible to predict, but major hurdle number one has been cleared. All Kentucky can do now is keep its eyes on the hurdles ahead and keep running.