Not focused on revenge, Florida is gunning to open SEC play with a win at Kentucky

By Michael Phillips
September 13, 2019
Not focused on revenge, Florida is gunning to open SEC play with a win at Kentucky

For the first time, in 31 years the Kentucky Wildcats walked out of a football stadium with a win over the Florida Gators last season. It was a shock across the country with many believing it would ruin Florida’s season.

Ultimately, it did just the opposite. 

“I think our guys really learned, and we really learned a lot about the players,” head coach Dan Mullen said of the response to that loss. “I don’t know that we were always putting people in the best positions to make plays. I think we learned what guys did well and poorly at that point, and we had some guys out of position. Some guys probably played more than they should, other guys not playing as much as they should in those ways.

“I think losing a game kind of motivated the guys in a different way of what we need to do and our sense of urgency and how hard it is to win. I think they took a lot out of it.”

The Gators went on to finish 10-3 after defeating Michigan in the Peach Bowl, and they carried that momentum into this season. Now at 2-0 with a Power Five victory already notched, No. 9 Florida is ready to crank things up as SEC play begins on the road in Lexington, Kentucky.

“It’s definitely gonna be a different environment, and I think guys will be excited just to finally get into SEC play,” senior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “It counts for real now in regards to our SEC ranking, so I think guys are gonna know the sense of urgency and the level of play that we have to play is definitely higher than it was before. So I think guys will just be ready to go to practice today and execute at a high level.”

A lot has been made of last year’s 27-16 loss in The Swamp. Nobody on this team has the experience of facing the Wildcats after falling the last time out against them. Is there added motivation? Do the Gators want revenge? Well, according to their offensive leader, if that is the mindset then UF is already at a disadvantage. 

“To be honest with you, that game has no effect on this year’s game at all,” redshirt junior quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “They have different players, we have different players, some of the same players, some of them not. We try to prepare this week to go out there and play this year’s Kentucky team, and I think that’s the funnest part. It doesn’t have any effect, last year’s game.”

“You should never take a team lightly,” he continued. “There should be a standard at which you play at, every game no matter who you are playing. If you’re playing below that standard, then that’s not right and that’s not how we’re going to win. I think we made that very clear after last year’s loss, and going into this season, we made it very clear there’s a standard at which you play at and if you’re not up to that standard, don’t go out there and expect to win.”

Even though Kentucky lost it’s two best players in running back Benny Snell and edge rusher Josh Allen from last season and have now seen starting quarterback Terry Wilson ruled out for the season due to injury, head coach Mark Stoops has built a very solid program that is still a tough out, particularly defensively.

“They have a very good defensive system, very complementary,” Mullen said. “I think [Stoops] knows his system. They have the answers to the questions. That’s always a big one. They do enough things to cause you problems. It’s, ‘OK, well, if they’re going to do this, we want to attack here.’ But he’s like, ‘OK, well, then they can do that to take that away from you.’

“… One of the things that they do a really, really good job of is mixing things up, and they do a good job of mixing up pressures and coverage looks of dropping eight guys into coverage, sometimes rushing four-, five-, six-man rushes and mixing up the different looks that they give you with that. I think knowing his system and how long he’s done it, he knows the answers to the questions. As you attack one area, they can make the adjustments to take that away.”

The Wildcats love to throw different looks at different times throughout a game to confuse offenses and make it as tough as they can on opposing quarterbacks. Stoops usually has his guys ready, and his secondary is solid this season despite losing some key guys within the defense from last year. His defensive line could be the best he’s had to date at UK. 

To find success against this defense on the road, it is up to Franks to stay even keeled and take what the defense gives him. 

“It always is,” Mullen said when asked if Stoop’s defense is a challenge for Franks. “It’s a different challenge than last week, you know, where there was so much drop eight and guys all over the place. He’s got to make his reads, similar to what he did last week. Take what the defense gave us. If they’re going to give us a shot down the field, don’t be afraid to take it. If they’re not, don’t be afraid to check it down and really do a good job of taking what they’re giving us and recognizing the differences in coverages.”

This will be the first true road test for the Gators this weekend as they begin conference play, and with that, the energy increases. It’s only natural for players to be more motivated to face off against Kentucky than Tennessee-Martin, but Florida understands it must be focused or it could easily fall again to its SEC East rival.

“It is the most minute of details of what you’re doing and whether it’s a practice, whether it’s a walk through, whether it’s a film study, just that ability to focus and make sure I’m exact on every single detail is huge,” Mullen said. “I think it will. The energy will crank up a lot because it is conference play. Human nature, it’s hard to be motivated at the highest of levels for 12 consecutive weeks when you’re 18-22 years old. It’s hard. 

“I don’t think you see a lot of NFL teams go undefeated. I think your human nature cost you. I wish we could be because I want consistency of performance and how to perform at the highest of levels. Human nature sometimes creeps in, so I would imagine as we come in this morning that everybody is ready to go. … The guys know, naturally, it happens. They pick it up a little bit because it’s a different game.”

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