This … is The Swamp? Kentucky embarrasses Florida ending Gators’ 31-game winning streak

By Adam Silverstein
September 8, 2018
This … is The Swamp? Kentucky embarrasses Florida ending Gators’ 31-game winning streak
Football

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

Four-win seasons and fired coaches have turned a once-successful Florida Gators football program on its head over the last few years, but one of the few trophies Florida was able to hold onto over this disastrous period was its massive winning streak over the SEC East rival Kentucky Wildcats. On Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, that shred of the Gators’ greatness fell by the wayside, too, as the luster of The Swamp was officially lost.

For the first time since 1986, Kentucky defeated Florida on the football field, ending a 31-game winning streak held by the Gators that was the longest active continuous streak in major college football.

UF’s trend of taking down UK on the gridiron year after year was bound to end sometime. After all, three of the prior four meetings between the programs were decided by six points or fewer. It’s just that it likely should have ended in one of those aforementioned games, not on Saturday in The Swamp in a 27-16 victory that was more of a blowout than the final margin indicated.

Head football coach Dan Mullen appeared to have rejuvenated Florida football since his arrival, but that sweet emotion culminated in a 53-6 bludgeoning of FCS Charleston Southern in the Gators’ season opener. It was not expected that Florida would run through Kentucky in similar fashion, but the hosts were nearly 14-point favorites when the game kicked off, and UF was certainly expected to continue its winning streak over a UK team that barely went bowling a year ago.

Consider that the Gators had only lost six prior games to SEC East opponents in The Swamp since 1990. Kentucky was 4-28 in its 32 previous trips to Gainesville, Florida, and had not won there since 1979 against a team that went winless that season. UF had also won 13 consecutive SEC openers before Saturday night’s disaster.

While Florida did lead for a period of time, it was never truly in the game. Kentucky dominated nearly every facet of the contest and would have posted an even more dominant score had it not committed two untimely drive-killing turnovers in the first half.

The Wildcats outgained the Gators by nearly 100 yards overall (453-360) and dominated the hosts on the ground (303-128). UK began the game by converting 8-of-9 third downs — many of them for more than 10 yards — and at one point had doubled up UF offensively and rushed for five times as many yards. The number of tackles the Gators missed may have set a program record. It would be difficult to know for sure.

Worst of all? Kentucky made plenty of mistakes — as it has in the past — that other Florida teams would have capitalized on. You would think the Wildcats would need a perfect game to beat the Gators. This was anything but. In addition to the two drive-killing turnovers, Kentucky was sloppy throughout, committing 12 penalties for 114 yards and failing to cover Florida receivers on a couple plays.

The problems for the Gators were multiple. The offensive line could not keep defenders off redshirt sophomore quarterback Feleipe Franks. Though Franks made some good throws on occasion, he threw a terrible interception midway through the second half and did not even see a wide-open receiver for a late two-point conversion that would have given his team a bit more life.

Florida’s defense was basically a sieve for the first three quarters, allowing Kentucky to get whatever it wanted on the ground. It did not help that the Gators were missing their top defensive lineman in suspended senior Cece Jefferson, top linebacker in injured junior David Reese and top cornerback in sophomore Marco Wilson, who appeared to seriously injure his knee early in the first quarter.

The Gators also saw officials under the goal posts call a clearly made field goal by freshman kicker Evan McPherson a miss. That would have put Florida eight points away from tying the game, making the aforementioned failed two-point conversion an even more important play.

Kentucky scored touchdowns on drives of 91 yards, 90 yards and 78 yards. Florida simply could not stop the onslaught. The defense looked as if it had never seen run-pass options or a mobile quarterback before. The offense was unable to sustain drives long enough to give the other side some rest, though it did piece together a 15-play, 99-yard touchdown-scoring dive to provide itself with an outside chance late in the contest.

Where the Gators go from here is anyone’s guess. Florida does have a potential get-right game against Colorado State next week. After that, the Gators play three of four SEC games on the road (Tennessee, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt) with LSU coming to town in between.

If Florida can’t beat Kentucky in The Swamp at night, what does that say for the remainder of the season? If the Gators can’t win a game like that against an opponent making that many mistakes at home, what are they going to do on the road?

It had been obvious from the day he took over that Mullen had quite a rebuilding job in Gainesville. Saturday night, we learned that not only are the Gators far from “back,” they have a long way to go toward even being competitive. And all the while, the luster of The Swamp has been lost.

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