Jonathan George dives for a touchdown in overtime against WKU. (Photo by Jon Hale)
The UK football team knows what an upset win can do for a program.
It was just last week that they saw Western Kentucky pull off the feat at their own expense. Now the Wildcats are hoping for a little magic of their own when they travel to No. 14 Florida this weekend.
“I don’t know if it turns everything around just like that, but it definitely helps with momentum,” said UK head coach Joker Phillips. “We’re getting ready to go into a tough SEC grind, so it would definitely help in gaining momentum.”
For as surprising as Western Kentucky’s first win against a BCS-conference opponent was Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium, a UK win in Gainesville would be even more shocking.
The Gators have won each of their last 25 meetings with the Wildcats. The 25-game losing streak is the longest active streak in the country between two teams that play annually. UK hasn’t won in Gainesville since 1979.
Phillips has never beaten Florida in 22 tries as a player, assistant coach and head coach.
Florida is already 3-0 on the season with wins against Southeastern Conference opponents Texas A&M and Tennessee. The Gators rank 22nd in the country in rushing yards per game at 232.67, while the UK rushing defense ranks 97th in the country at 189.67 yards per game.
Each of the six betting websites listed by ESPN.com has Florida as a 24-point favorite.
“We’re going to get a bunch of big, angry guys over on the other side,” said UK offensive coordinator Randy Sanders.
If UK’s history against Florida and the wide variance in the two teams’ seasons thus far weren’t enough for worry, there is the ongoing feud between current Florida and former UK offensive coordinator Brent Pease and former UK quarterback Jared Lorenzen to consider.
Pease was Lorenzen’s offensive coordinator at UK in 2001 and 2002, but when Pease left Lexington for Baylor with then head coach Guy Morris their relationship wasn’t on the best of terms.
When Pease was named Florida’s offensive coordinator, Lorenzen tweeted “Seriously, Brent Pease at Florida? He’s freaking crazy and was brutal at UK when I was there.” He added, “The good thing about Pease at UF is now we can shut them down.”
This week, The Gainesville Sun reported Pease told a group of Florida boosters in July that Lorenzen’s comments were “good for about two extra launch plays, trying to get to 50 points on those guys when they come to campus.”
Informed of the Lorenzen/Pease feud, Phillips had a smile and quick answer.
“Tell Jared to shut the hell up,” he said with a laugh. “Tell Pease that Jared is sorry, OK. I’ll apologize for him.”
Whether Pease and the Gators have extra motivation or not, the Wildcat football players know they have their hands full this weekend.
“They’re really, really good,” said sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith. “They’ve already proven it.”
UK players don’t have to look far for an example of the team snapping a long losing streak. They ended the 2011 season by snapping the 26-game losing streak against Tennessee.
Several players said this week that they will lean on that experience against the Gators.
“A lot of people at that time last year didn’t have any faith in us in winning that game,” said senior defensive end Collins Ukwu. “Everybody thought Tennessee was going to win that game.”
“(It shows) really anything can happen,” said junior tailback Jonathan George. “When you’re playing hard and you’re playing your heart out, you know that you can win.”
In a week that has been characterized by questions about Phillips’ job security and the direction of the program in the wake of the first loss to Western Kentucky in program history, UK players and coaches are eager for another chance to prove themselves on the field.
“If we can go down in the swamp and beat them, that would be really something special,” Smith said.
But even Phillips acknowledged that an unlikely win Saturday will not completely quiet the unhappiness in the fan base.
“I don’t think there’s anything that’s a quick fix,” he said.