Look who’s talking now

Published 11:20 am Tuesday, October 3, 2023

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By Keith Taylor

Kentucky Today

As I was leaving Kroger Field Saturday, that’s when it hit me the significance of Kentucky beating Florida in football for three straight seasons.

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On this beat for almost 30 years, I have witnessed and written about close calls and blowouts in this series. Those close games were few and far between. It wasn’t long ago the Gators won 31 straight games against the Wildcats, a string of losses that ended when Kentucky posted a 27-16 triumph over the Gators in the Swamp in 2018, one year after Florida edged the Wildcats 28-27 at Kroger Field.

That’s all the confidence the Wildcats needed to get over the proverbial hump and put an end to the Gator Chomp at least on a yearly basis. Overcoming three decades of misery wasn’t easy. It took six head coaches to get there, and Mark Stoops finally proved Kentucky could beat the Gators on the football field.

Granted, Florida isn’t the same powerhouse program it was under Steve Spurrier and Urban Meyer. The program isn’t comprised of the same coaches and players, but beating Florida in football is still a big achievement for the Wildcats, given the Gators’ tradition.

Kentucky’s latest victory over Florida — the third in the past five years — was a 33-14 win in a contest that wasn’t even close in the trenches and beyond.

“They were ready to play, and they flat out beat us,” said Florida coach Billy Napier, who is 0-2 against the Wildcats. “They were the more physical team, controlled the line of scrimmage and the edges of the formation, and they protected their quarterback. … Kentucky deserved the win today. The Gators did not and that’s my responsibility.”

Kentucky’s first four games of the season — all wins — left the Wildcats yearning for more. Stoops and the Wildcats had a better feeling about themselves after putting it all together at times against the Gators.

“This was such a big game for this moment, you know, for this team,” Stoops said. “I am happy for that team. You know, our team, they just have been — I guess I’ve used that word. But, like, they just knew that we were close and there was more, and they have been working and working and eventually you want it to pay off.”

Success didn’t happen overnight but proved to be a steady process under Stoops. Following Kentucky’s seventh win in school history over a ranked Florida team, the Wildcats made an appearance in the Associated Press Top 25 poll Sunday and debuted at No. 20 going into Saturday’s showdown at top-ranked Georgia,

“There is still a lot more out there for us and we need it,” Stoops said. “We play next week, and you will have to put it all together. We were close at times (Saturday) and it could show you how good of a football team we can be when we do put it together. And I think there is a lot more out there for us. And we are going to keep on working and keep on pushing.”

That’s the only way Stoops would have it.