LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) - Kentucky’s futility against Florida that began long before its players were born hasn’t stopped the annual question about ending the slide.
Surprisingly, the Wildcats have embraced the issue more this year because a bigger reward looms if they break their 30-game losing streak to the No. 20 Gators .
Kentucky (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) can grab early control of the Eastern Division by beating the Gators (1-1, 1-0) on Saturday night.
“You have to know about the streak, you have to know what has happened these last 30 years,” said quarterback Stephen Johnson, a late substitute in last year’s 45-7 shellacking at Florida who’s now the Wildcats’ starter. “You try not to focus on it, but we’re excited to come out here on Saturday.
“We’re a much better team than we were last year, and we think we can get it done.”
Kentucky has came close a couple of times to ending the Football Bowl Subdivision’s longest active losing streak before last year’s beatdown in The Swamp. The Wildcats have made big strides since then, reaching their first bowl since 2010 and building confidence that they can break into the East’s upper tier with Florida, Georgia and Tennessee. They’re coming off a 23-13 victory at South Carolina.
Florida has some issues of its own that the Gators will be looking to address.
The Gators want to establish some offensive consistency after coming off a last-second victory against Tennessee. Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks hit Tyrie Cleveland with a 63-yard Hail Mary touchdown pass for a wild 26-20 victory .
The Gators again will be without nine players, including starting receiver Antonio Callaway and 2016 leading rusher Jordan Scarlett. The nine players are being investigated for alleged credit card fraud and could face felony charges.
So Florida isn’t focused on maintaining its dominance over Kentucky, the Gators are just looking for a win.
“We treat every game as the most important game of the season,” safety Nick Washington said. “We’ve gone on a streak for a very long time, but it’s not the focus this week. The focus is we play Kentucky this week and it’s the biggest game of the week.”
Other things to look for as Kentucky looks to end a 30-game losing streak against Florida:
RUN STOPPERS: A year after allowing Florida to rush for 244 yards, Kentucky enters as the SEC leader in fewest rushing yards allowed at just 57 a game to rank third nationally. The Wildcats have yielded just 171 yards and one touchdown on the ground so far. “The key has been just being more physical, ripping off blocks and getting downhill,” middle linebacker Courtney Love said. “(Defensive coordinator Matt) House has stressed stopping the run and that’s something we all stressed ourselves.”
FRESHMAN WATCH: The Gators are expected to get freshmen Malik Davis and Kadarius Toney more touches after they flashed against Tennessee. Davis ran four times for 94 yards, including a 72-yarder in which he fumbled near the goal line. “He brings a little juice, there’s no doubt,” coach Jim McElwain said. Toney caught four passes for 40 yards, making the first defender miss several times and wowing teammates. “I don’t think he has any ACLs, to be honest with you,” fellow receiver Freddie Swain said.
BENNY’S BACK: Since his rough start at Southern Miss, Kentucky sophomore back Benny Snell has posted consecutive 100-yard rushing games and scored three TDs, including two at South Carolina. That’s encouraging for an offense seeking to control the line of scrimmage against Florida.
ROAD TEST: Thirteen of Florida’s 22 starters are freshmen or sophomores, and the number could rise to 14 if senior cornerback Duke Dawson (concussion) doesn’t play. It could pose problems in the team’s first road game of the season. “The biggest challenge as we kind of looked at it is to see where the leadership is on our team, to see how they handle the hostile environment, to see how our young guys - who haven’t really played in a conference game on the road - handle it,” McElwain said. “It’ll be interesting to see where our team is.”
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AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Florida, contributed to this story.
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