|No. 20 Florida tries for 31st straight win over Kentucky|
The last time Kentucky beat Florida on the football field, Ronald Reagan was approaching the halfway mark of his second term. Gas was 89 cents a gallon, and you could buy a new Ford Mustang for less than $7,500.
The year was 1986, and the Wildcats, then coached by Jerry Claiborne, scored the only touchdown on running back Mark Higgs' short plunge for a 10-3 victory over the Gators.
The next year Florida beat Kentucky 27-14 in Gainesville to start what has become a stretch of 30 consecutive victories for the Gators in the series, the longest active winning streak over a major college opponent and the fifth-longest such streak of all-time.
The 20th-ranked Gators (1-1, 0-1 SEC) will be looking to extend their dominance, while the Wildcats (3-0, 1-0 SEC) seek to end their frustrations Saturday night in Lexington, Ky.
Though on decidedly opposite sides of the issue, both coaches seem to be taking a similar approach to the impact of the streak.
"Every year it's different," Florida coach Jim McElwain said. "You've got two different teams playing, so right now, it's 0-0."
Kentucky's Mark Stoops certainly isn't going to dwell on it either.
"I haven't addressed that before," he said. "It's never been my approach. These kids haven't been here for 30 years."
Still, it can be useful.
"If it gives somebody a little bit of motivation, I hope it gives them motivation on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday," Stoops said. "I want them getting motivation to prepare. If that does something for you, then good."
Both teams are coming off significant victories, but few in college football -- and we're talking history here -- could be considered more dramatic than Florida's 26-20 win over Tennessee. It came on a 63-yard Hail Mary pass from quarterback Feleipe Franks, who scrambled to his right to avoid a pass rush before launching a prayer to wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, who slipped behind a defender.
As Cleveland cradled the ball as he skidded on the end zone turf, the home crowd of more than 87,000 went into a wild frenzy. The play came shortly after the Gators had surrendered a 10-point lead in the closing minutes.
"Victories are hard to come by," McElwain said. "You celebrate them and learn from them, just like you do defeats."
The Gators have plenty to clean up. They had three turnovers against the Vols, missed several tackles in the fourth quarter and didn't record an offensive touchdown until there was 5:13 remaining, when Franks found senior receiver Brandon Powell for a 5-yard touchdown pass.
"There's a couple throws here and there I should have completed, should have been easy throws," Franks said. "But I try not to dwell on the past. You know, our team got the win which is obviously the most important thing.
Defensively, the missed tackles irked McElwain. The Gators allowed Tennessee to gain 231 yards in the fourth quarter after allowing 211 yards in the first three periods. Florida is likely to be without standout cornerback Duke Dawson, who suffered a head injury last week.
"Late in the game we didn't tackle worth a hill of beans," McElwain said. "What bothered me was the secondary tackling, especially from some of our, quote, good guys, veterans. That's been pointed out and will continue to be pointed out."
Kentucky is looking to go 4-0 for the first time since 2008. The Wildcats won last week's league opener, 23-13 at South Carolina, showing grit early when the Gamecocks scored on a 68-yard pass on the first play of the game, and quarterback Stephen Johnson threw an interception on the Wildcats' second play.
Johnson made up for his early gaffe by ripping off a 54-yard run that put the Wildcats in position for Austin MacGinnis' clinching field goal with just over two minutes left. Kentucky running back Benny Snell, who can take handoffs or direct snaps in the wildcat formation, rushed for 102 yards against South Carolina. The sophomore has seven career games with 100-plus yards rushing.
Even if he is ignoring the three decades of frustrations against Florida, Stoops acknowledges he will show tape of last year's 45-7 loss to the Gators. It was one of the most discouraging performances of their season.
"We do watch that because it's very recent and we can't make the same mistakes," Stoops said. "The game film should be no problem motivating us because we didn't play very good."