(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – Although the Kentucky football team remains undefeated four games into the regular season, many would describe their on-the-field performance thus far as less than impressive. That certainly rings true in the boo-boo category. Statistics don’t lie in showing that the Wildcats are tied with Florida State and Hawaii with the most turnovers committed (11) this season. Having generated only two measly takeaways of their own, they’re also swimming at the bottom of the FBS barrel with a -9 turnover margin.
That’s a huge warning sign in a lot of people’s minds. Truth be told, although the Cats have escaped with an unblemished record, these first four games were ones that fans penciled anyway into the “W” column at the beginning of the season.
Missouri—nice win, but it was at home and the Tigers aren’t as good as we thought.
Chattanooga—should have blown them out.
Even last Saturday’s 16 – 9 victory over a tough South Carolina team in a hostile SEC environment was met with skepticism and worry. Kentucky fumbled the ball four times, losing two, while the offense hemmed and hawed their way to 230 yards on the ground and only 102 through the air. Chris Rodriguez was the workhorse once again, plowing his way to 144 yards on 26 carries for the night.
In what is becoming a familiar theme, the defense played respectably, holding the Gamecocks to only 216 total yards while limiting Shane Beamer’s squad to 3 of 15 on third and fourth down conversions.
Mr. Negative would claim that it’s only a matter of time before turnovers doom the Wildcats. You play like you did against those first four foes, and the Florida Gators will be literally “chomping” at the bit.
Mr. Positive says, “You are what your record says you are,” and Kentucky has managed to go 4 – 0 (2 – 0 SEC) while not playing anywhere near to the best of their ability and potential.
How good, then, are these Wildcats?
Reality lies somewhere in between. In what will be one of the most highly anticipated games in the Mark Stoops era, the Florida Gators pay a visit to Kroger Field at 6 pm on Saturday night. A full week of fevered anticipation—followed by a packed house in front of a national ESPN audience—will surely make for a frenzied atmosphere.
If that weren’t enough drama, the two teams are fighting for a spot opposite Georgia as kings of the SEC East. No. 10-ranked Florida (3 – 1, 1 – 1 SEC) is putting up huge rushing numbers. The Gators have run for a whopping 323 yards per game while throwing for another 218 through the air.
The Kentucky defense, meanwhile, has only allowed a paltry 87.8 rushing yards per game. That’s knocking on the door of the top twenty and good enough for third place in the conference behind Georgia and Mississippi State. It’ll be the irresistible force meeting the immovable object in a titanic clash you won’t want to miss.
If Kentucky were somehow able to buck the odds and win, they’d set themselves up for a truly magical season. The Wildcats, however, might have to play a near perfect game to pull off the upset. Make no mistake, Florida is good. To beat Dan Mullen’s squad, Kentucky must eliminate turnovers and match Florida’s physicality at the line of scrimmage.
They’ll also have to take some chances. Capitalize on the crowd’s energy, pull out a trick play or two, and introduce Wan’Dale Robinson to the rest of the college football world. It’s high time to exorcise the ghosts of play clock violations (2014), dropped passes (2015), uncovered receivers (2017), and missed field goals (2019) and finally win one at home for the long-suffering commonwealth faithful.
Remember, Kentucky is 4 – 0. They’re exactly where they need to be and playing exclusively with house money. There’s absolutely nothing to lose and everything to gain in this game against the Gators.
I say focus on executing at the highest level and let the chips fall where they may on the dance floor. A prayer or two to the turnover gods certainly can’t hurt either.
“Maybe you need a bounce here or a bounce there,” Stoops quipped earlier at his weekly meeting with media. “Sometimes you need the ball to bounce your way.”
After all those years of unfavorable bounces, it’s about time for good things to happen. Why not this year? Play to win. Cash in those chips. Savor the moment. Dance the night away.
Kentucky 31, Florida 28.
Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. His new book, CUT TO THE CHASE, is now available on Amazon. His newest Kentucky Basketball book, KENTUCKY PASSION, is scheduled for an October 19th release. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.