Kentucky Football: Optimism Abounds, Florida Still Poses Challenges for Kentucky

Vinny Hardy@http://twitter.com/VinnyHardyCorrespondent ISeptember 24, 2013

Sep 7, 2013; Lexington, KY, USA; Kentucky Wildcats head coach Mark Stoops talks with safety Ashely Lowery (5) during the game against the Miami (Oh) Redhawks at Commonwealth Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports
Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

The Kentucky Wildcats will attempt to end 26 years of frustration when the Florida Gators visit Lexington on Sept. 28.

It will be the second time in the last three seasons that the Cats have encountered such a streak. They halted the other one with a 10-7 win over Tennessee on Nov. 26, 2011.

Typically the outcome of the Florida game has usually been decided shortly after the coin toss concludes.

Since Kentucky's 10-3 win in 1986, there have been several lopsided games in Florida's favor.

From 1994-96, the Gators outscored the Wildcats by a combined score of 180-14.

If the 63-5 game in 2008 could be cleansed from memory, there's no doubt Kentucky fans would make that happen.

There have been some close games as well. The 24-21 heartbreaker from 2003 quickly comes to mind as does the 41-34 game in 2002.

Most recently, there is the 45-37 loss in 2007 when College Gameday paid a visit to Lexington.

However, there is a growing feeling of quiet confidence in Kentucky's chances to knock off the Gators (No. 20 AP) who opened as two-touchdown favorites.

Those feelings are justified.

Mark Stoops has created a new sense of excitement in the Commonwealth.

He has recruited at a historically high level, never before seen at UK, which currently has them ranked No. 7 in the nation in recruiting for the class of 2014.

Kentucky's performance against Louisville is encouraging as well. The Cats were competitive in the first half and had several opportunities to keep things closer than the 27-13 score indicated.

Another thing that cannot be overlooked is Stoops' familiarity with Florida. He squared off against them in each of the last three seasons while he was the defensive coordinator at Florida State. All of these things will bode well for him.

The fact that the Cats had a bye week leading up to this game didn't hurt either.

The time of the kickoff plays a role too. With all due respect to the noon start times, kicking this game off at 7 p.m. will be so much better in terms of creating an electric atmosphere in Commonwealth Stadium.

Florida's lackluster start to the season also gives the impression that they are more vulnerable than they have been in some time.

They were anything but impressive in their 24-6 win over Toledo on Aug. 31 and followed that up with a 21-16 loss to Miami on Sept. 7.

On top of all of that, junior quarterback Jeff Driskel was lost for the season with a broken lower leg in the Gators' 31-17 win over Tennessee on Sept. 21.

That said, Florida will bring a nasty defense to Commonwealth Stadium. They lead the nation in third-down conversion percentage. It will be imperative for UK to find a way to keep their offense on the field and sustain drives more consistently than they did against Louisville.

Equally important is keeping Maxwell Smith or Jalen Whitlow clean and upright. That will be a job in itself with Dominique Easley and Dante Fowler and the rest of the Florida front seven intent on disrupting offensive coordinator Neal Brown's schemes. 

Update: Since this was written Florida defensive lineman Dominique Easley has been lost for the season with a knee injury.

 Now don't get it twisted, Florida still has players who are capable of playing at a high level, especially on their defensive line. However, losing a starting quarterback and defensive lineman for the season in the same week will be tough for any team to deal with.

It would be nice to see Trey Burton kept under wraps in his final game against UK.
It would be nice to see Trey Burton kept under wraps in his final game against UK.Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Trey Burton must be mentioned too. As much as Kentucky fans would love to forget him, the senior wide receiver is still on the roster and must be dealt with one last time. We all know full well what he is capable of.

Lastly, there is the new guy under center, Tyler Murphy. To say that he is inexperienced is an understatement.

Prior to Driskel departing with an injury, Murphy had never thrown a pass while at Florida. He quickly jumped into the fray and completed 8 of 14 passes for 161 yards and a touchdown versus Tennessee.

He also made several plays with his legs, and his mobility is definitely something UK will have to be conscious of.

To sum it all up, I can't quite see Kentucky beating Florida yet. Having said that, I can't see Kentucky being humiliated and failing to compete as they have been known to do in this series. 

The days of Florida cruising to victory and barely breaking a sweat will soon be a thing of the past, and that is a good thing.