September 23, 2017
Gators have beaten the Wildcats 30 straight times, dating to 1986.
LEXINGTON, Ky. — In the aftermath of last week’s “Swamp” miracle, one of the first comments from Florida coach Jim McElwain was about Feleipe Franks‘ arm, and how he’d demonstrated just how far he could chuck a football.
But arm strength was never in question regarding the UF redshirt freshman quarterback; readiness was. Franks was not ready for what Michigan threw it him in the lopsided season-opening loss. Against Tennessee, against all odds, he made a play that only a fraction of collegiate quarterbacks could even attempt. He was the ready to take on a big moment.
How ready is he for the Southeastern Conference road?
For that matter, how ready is this UF team?
With one disappointing outing and one unbelievable one on their 2017 resume, Franks and the No. 20 Gators (1-1, 1-0) now get to see how they handle the distractions and adversity associated with an away game when they take on confident Kentucky (3-0, 1-0) at what figures to be an energized atmosphere Saturday night at Kroger Field.
If you entered this world in the last 30 years, you have yet to see a UK football team beat UF. The nation’s longest active winning streak of one FBS program over another dates to Nov. 15, 1987 and spans seven Florida head coaches and seven Kentucky head coaches.
Oh, and lots of quarterbacks, but this will be Franks’ first taste of the series, save standing on the sideline during his 2016 redshirt season as Luke Del Rio passed for 320 yards and four touchdowns in a 45-7 route. Whether this Gators team is better than McElwain’s last one will be proven as the season plays out.
This Wildcats team, the fifth under Coach Mark Stoops, is definitely better than last year’s. It has a dual-threat quarterback in Stephen Johnson, who went into a hostile environment at South Carolina last week and bamboozled the Gamecocks for 169 yards passing, plus another 74 rushing. It has a running back in Benny Snell who ranks seventh in the Southeastern Conference in rushing at 90.7 yards per game. And it has a defense that leads the league in stopping the run (just 57.0 yards allowed per game; the longest run surrendered only 11 yards), which could be a bad omen for Franks as far as getting into a cozy rhythm for his first road test.
Then again, if the fourth quarter of the Tennessee game represented a wake-up call of sorts — UF gained 187 of its 380 yards in the final period — maybe the Gators will have something to say to the 63,000 in the house. Maybe Franks (62.2 percent, 282 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT) and his offensive mates will take the next step, with the likes of wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland (9 catches, 149 yards, 1 TD) and perhaps some cameos from true freshmen tailback Malik Davis (5 carries, 102 yards) and utility receiver Kadarius Toney (6 catches, 67 yards) getting more touches. Is this the night the offensive line, billed by McElwain as the strength of this team heading into the season, has a break-out game that lifts the offense from the bottom of the SEC statistical rankings?
Kickoff is set for 7:30 on the SEC Network, with replays scheduled for Monday at 1:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., as well as Friday at noon, also on the SEC Network.
Check out the GatorVision’s pre-game show, hosted by Mitch Gerber, coming from the field via Facebook Live on the Florida Gators page. Guests include SEC Network sideline reporter Cole Cubelic and Gator IMG Radio Network voices Jeff Cardozo and Brady Ackerman.
Finally, stay with FloridaGators.com and refresh this link for in-game updates, and also follow senior staff writers Scott Carter and Chris Harry on Twitter — @GatorsScott and @GatorsChris — for commentary and analysis throughout the game.