GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Florida players want to continue their dominance over Kentucky. The Wildcats are determined to snap their 26-game losing streak to the 20th-ranked Gators.
Something has to give when the schools meet in Saturday night's Southeastern Conference game in Lexington, where Florida (2-1, 1-0) will try to regroup after a staggering week of season-ending injuries to key players. Kentucky (1-2) begins SEC play after a bye motivated to beat the Gators for the first time since 1986 and put an end to discussions about the losing streak.
For added intrigue, former Kentucky coach Joker Phillips returns to face the school he led for three seasons before being fired last November. Phillips hasn't talked publicly about his return and the Wildcats have said their priority is beating the Gators.
"We've talked about it some," Kentucky senior linebacker Avery Williamson said of the streak. "We just have to go in there with an attitude and come out with a win. ...
"Just going out there and worrying about playing, that's the biggest thing. We don't even worry about it."
Florida's run against Kentucky is the longest active streak over a major opponent in an annual series. The closest the Wildcats have come against the Gators was a 45-37 outcome in 2007; blowouts have been the norm since then including a 38-0 shutout last year in Gainesville, Fla.
Florida players don't want anything to change, they like things the way they are.
"Don't want to be on that end," Gators right tackle Kyle Koehne said. "I've gone 4-0 against UK in my career, so I'm looking to keep it undefeated."
Added left tackle D.J. Humphries, "Twenty-six straight? Time to make it 27 then."
Here are five things to watch as Florida's 26-game winning streak against Kentucky continues or ends on Saturday night:
FILLING BIG SHOES: Florida's second-ranked defense lost 6-foot-2, 285-pound defensive tackle Dominique Easley to a season-ending knee injury this week. The Gators now turn to junior Leon Orr and senior Damien Jacobs with Darious Cummings and Jay-nard Bostwick waiting on deck. Easley's loss leaves them without a disruptive line presence who had four quarterback hurries and two tackles for loss despite being double teamed.
KENTUCKY'S QB: The Wildcats' starting quarterback could be a game-time decision driven mostly by the matchup against Florida's stingy defense. Kentucky's bye week gave Maxwell Smith more time to recover from an injured shoulder sustained against Louisville and a good week of practice makes him probable to start. That said, the Wildcats' desire to establish the line of scrimmage and create a dual threat might lead to the mobile Jalen Whitlow getting the nod to keep the Gators guessing before alternating with Smith, the better passer.
MURPHY'S LAW: Jeff Driskel's season-ending leg injury thrust little-used redshirt junior Tyler Murphy into action for Florida against Tennessee, but he didn't look like someone who had thrown just one pass in four years in leading the Gators' 34-17 victory. Murphy threw for 134 yards and touchdown, rushed for 84 and another TD in the Gators' win. He will get his first career start against the Wildcats. Kentucky views Murphy as similar to Driskel in his ability to run and throw, not allowing the Wildcats to focus on one aspect of his game.
STAY IN PURSUIT: Run defense has been a season-long concern for Kentucky, which yielded a season-high 242 yards to Louisville two weeks ago and ranks next to last in the SEC. Though Florida's 199.7 yards per game ranks 12th of 14 SEC teams, the Gators still present another test for a Wildcats team that has yet to hold its ground.
GATORS' BACKFIELD QUESTIONS: Fumbles the past two weeks by starter Matt Jones has led coach Will Muschamp to go with the "hot hand" this week, which could result in more action for Mack Brown or freshman Kelvin Taylor, son of NFL running back Fred Taylor. Despite a thigh bruise suffered against Tennessee, cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy could also be used in a perimeter role with Valdez Showers out.
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