GAINESVILLE — If it is indeed true that a college football team makes the most progress between Week 1 and Week 2, then, this much we know: Florida is better – MUCH, much better – than it was last week when it sent Massachusetts home thinking it could hang with a Southeastern Conference school. The Gators took a big step forward Saturday afternoon.
The Wildcats took two steps back and fell off the porch.
Florida 45, Kentucky 7, was bad enough from the Wildcats’ perspective to make one wonder how it was that UK was able to play the Gators to the closing moments last year and into multiple overtimes the year before that.
This UK team, we had assured ourselves, was better – potentially the best of the Mark Stoops Era. Florida looked like a mere mortal again after struggling to beat the Minutemen. Instead, on a swampy day at the Swamp, the Cats took what might have been their worst beating since Stoops assumed possession of the big chair.
And because his name sits atop the program, it was Stoops who had to find the words for his battered team after the game. “You have to look in the mirror,” he told his team, “and it starts with me.”
When he does look in the mirror, Stoops sees a man who unpacked a reputation for building sound defenses when he arrived four years ago. And yet, over the past two games his team has surrendered nearly 1,100 yards of offense and 89 points. Its losing skid has swollen to eight of nine games.
Relief would seem to be on the way in the form of an opponent named New Mexico State. But even if the Cats do dispatch the Aggies, the question still nags. Is this team good enough to win six games and stop its non-post season tumble? It wasn’t good enough to snap the losing streak to Florida, which has reached an even 30.
For the second straight trip to the Swamp, the Wildcats were on the wrong end of a questionable call. Two seasons back it was a non-call, Florida seemingly getting an extra second to throw a TD pass that enabled the Gators to bump the game into a third overtime, where they finally prevailed.
On Saturday, it was a first quarter scoop-and-score by J.D. Harmon, after the Wildcats had nearly sacked Gator QB Luke Del Rio. The ball ended up first on the ground, then in the rumbling arms of Harmon, who took it to the house. After an interminable wait, the officials ruled Del Rio had been trying to pass, so it went as an incompletion. A few seconds later came a Florida touchdown, setting off the rout.
It wouldn’t have mattered. Even if Harmon’s TD had survived the replay committee, Florida had too much – size, speed and talent. Kentucky never threatened after that, scoring its only TD late in the game against Gator backups.
It would have been an upset if the Cats had pulled off a victory. But fans and media members alike expected at least a competitive game, after the craziness of SEC football last weekend, not to mention the past two matchups involving these teams.
Now, it’s fair to wonder if this Kentucky ballclub is good enough to at least challenge the teams in the bottom half of the SEC East and find some way to win six games, before it hooks a Louisville team which is starting to look scary, thanks to touchdown machine Lamar Jackson.
UK’s quarterback, Drew Barker, had a nightmare of a day, with three interceptions and only two completions for just 10 yards. The gunslinger who torched Southern Mississippi for two quarters last Saturday seems like a remote memory.
He and his teammates likely will regain some confidence against NMSU. But when they look themselves in the mirror this week, coaches and players alike, they may not like what they see.