There is really no need to sugarcoat it. The Kentucky Wildcats' 29-game is a black eye, an embarrassment and one of the most cringe-worthy things to ever befall a Wildcats fan.
It has been wildly uneven at times with some true blowouts, but the Wildcats have had a few chances to end this madness. You can go here to see the moments in this streak that still drive me crazy.
Every cloud has its silver lining however and this streak will eventually end. Just like the 43 game streak Notre Dame had over Navy ended in 2006. Just like how Kansas finally beat Nebraska after 36 years in 2004. Or like how Temple snapped Penn State's 31-year streak in 2014. All of this will pass.
In the pre-season, I would have said that Kentucky had a good chance at ending it this year. The 36-30 and 14-9 losses of the last two years have this team eager to break through, and the Florida-born Wildcats have more than enough motive. After last week's game, I am not as sure. That is why they play the games.
With that said, let's meet the Gators
Luke Del Rio is the ninth gator to start at quarterback since the days of Tim Tebow and the jury is still out as to what the Gators have in Del Rio. That is a big advantage for Kentucky as they are catching the Gator offense at the right time. Del Rio has just had a game against UMass and the Wildcats represent the first SEC defense he will see.
Del Rio started slow against UMass but finished with respectable numbers, going 29-44 for 256 yards and 2 touchdowns. Granted, it was UMass and Del Rio averaged just 5.82 yards an attempt. Del Rio sat out last year after transferring from Oregon State where he attempted just 18 passes. For three quarters, Del Rio was very average but the Gators pulled away in the fourth period. Del Rio was not the only Gator to struggle on offense.
Florida only managed 107 yards on the ground against UMass, and that has to be a cause of concern for UF. The offensive line was horrid last year and allowed 45 sacks, and it was getting pushed around for most of the game against UMass. Sophomore Jordan Scarlett had 70 yards on 13 carries, and that was the star of the Gators ground game. JUCO transfer Mark Thompson only added 22 yards on six carries and UF averaged just 3.7 yards per carry.
Brandon Powell and Antonio Calloway are both poised for breakout seasons this year after solid freshman campaigns, Both found the endzone last week and they combined for 15 catches and 145 yards. Calloway is the most dangerous threat and had big games against Tennessee, Georgia, and LSU last year. TE DeAndre Goolsby appeared to be on the verge of a big year last year but his numbers dropped the second half when Will Grier was suspended.
The Gators have a lot of talent at this position, but not a lot of experience so look for the aforementioned players to get the bulk of the looks. Freshman Josh Hammond had five catches last week as well, and he could develop more of a rapport with Del Rio.
All in all, this is a very young and unproven unit that struggled to get 363 yards against UMass. The talent is plentiful, but this offense may not fully click until 2017.
In the end, the offense may not have to do much because the Gators defense is just as nasty as ever. It seems like this unit just reloads after massive losses every year, and they look to be loaded yet again. They totally shut UMass down, allowing just 187 yards and an anemic 1.3 yards per carry.
The Gators are stacked at the line and Jabari Zuniga had two sacks. Bryan Cox, CeCe Jefferson, and Joey Ivie had good years as backups last year and are going to be very solid contributors on the line. Caleb Brantly and Taven Bryan are mountains of men that will force UK to earn every single yard they get on the ground.
Even with the departure of Antonio Morrison, the Florida LB corps is very solid and very fast. Jarrad Davis is coming off a 9-tackle game and Alex Anzalone, who missed most of last year with an injury, is back and had a sack last week. Daniel McMillian also brings experience to this group and helps to reinforce a very solid front seven.
If there is a weakness in the defense it is that there is not a lot of depth in the defensive backfield. Marcus Maye is the most experienced player in this group and he had 64 tackles and two interceptions last year. Teez Tabor is poised to be a star this year. The former five-star junior had four interceptions last year and he had 30 tackles and broke up 14 passes. He will be one of the top cornerbacks in the league. Quincy Wilson and Nick Wilson bolster a unit that has just six players that had at least 7.5 tackles last year. As was the case last year, this defense is going to be good enough to keep Florida in every game.
SO, WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
I will be honest; I find it very hard to find a reason to think that this streak will end this week. Last week's second half was a disaster of epic proportions in the history of Kentucky football, and I am afraid the damage to the psyche of this team can be huge.
On the other hand, a loss like this could rally the team and make them want to prove they are better than what they showed. Also, the simple fact is that this streak has to end sometime. Hopefully the motivation to avoid the streak reaching 30 will inspire this team.
First off, the key will be to stop the run. If you take the Nick Mullens numbers out of the equation, Southern Miss averaged 4.76 yards per carry for 276 yards. If this happens against Florida, we are looking at a 20 point loss. One can argue that most of the damage came against an exhausted Wildcat defense and that is a valid point. We also saw too much of the missed tackles and arm tackles that have plagued Kentucky defenses for what seems for infinity. Expect Florida to set up the pass with the run.
Unlike some pundits, I think that Kentucky will put up enough points to be able to win the game. The key here is running the ball and having a balanced offense. Even when the offense was going well for Kentucky, their offense was more of a pass first and throw in an occasional run. Hopefully, Mikel Horton will give Kentucky another weapon, but it is going to be very tough to grind out yards against the Florida front seven.
Regardless, this team is going to have to be able to move the ball on the ground enough to give this team a few longer drives to wear the clock down some and shorten the game. If Kentucky can get 150 yards or more on the ground, that is a victory.
It sounds so cliche, but Kentucky is going to have to win this game in the trenches. They have to be able to put pressure on Del Rio and be able to grind out enough yards on the ground to give the defense a rest. Florida's offensive line as much maligned last year and they did not set the world afire last week, so there is hope for Kentucky.
In the end, it is hard to pick a Kentucky win in the Swamp so I am not even going to go there. I do think we will see a much improved Kentucky team on both ends of the ball and that makes me hopeful, but not enough to say Kentucky will win. It's important to note that the talent level between Kentucky and Florida is about as close as it has been at any point in the streak and if Florida overlooks Kentucky, the streak could be snapped.
I need to see a bit more on the field first before I fall into the hype so let's call this one 31-21 for the bad guys and hope that I am wrong.