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Stoops looks ahead as Cats seek an end to 31-year losing skid to Gators


Kentucky coach Mark Stoops and the Wildcats have lost 31 straight games to Southeastern Conference East rival Florida. Stoops is 0-5 against the Gators. (UK Athletics Photo)

By Keith Taylor
Kentucky Today

Kentucky hasn’t beaten Florida in more than three decades. It’s a losing streak that has featured several close calls in the past 31 years including a 28-27 setback last year at Kroger Field.

Despite the skid — the fourth longest in the nation — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops isn’t looking back on his previous five encounters against the Gators, including a 45-7 loss in his last trip to Gainesville two years ago. Three of the Wildcats’ last four setbacks to Florida have been by a combined margin of 12 points.

Stoops isn’t worried about the past. He’s more concerned about Saturday’s Southeastern Conference opener between the two teams.

“We need to focus on it because it’s this year,” Stoops said Monday. “It’s an SEC team, it’s in the East and we want to win some football games. They’re next on the schedule, and that’s truthfully what it is about. These guys cannot worry about 30-some years and all that. They really can’t. Winning is important to our team each and every week, and that’s the approach we’ll have.”

Stoops plans to talk to his team about the losing streak but will focus on Mississippi State’s old playbook more than the Gators. Florida coach Dan Mullen spent the previous nine seasons in Starkville before making a return to the Swamp last November. Mullen’s Bulldogs defeated the Wildcats 45-7 last season in Starkville.

Florida opened with a 53-6 blowout win over Charleston Southern in Mullen’s debut in Gainesville last weekend.

“Obviously we’ll watch the film,” Stoops said. “We’ll go back to last year and Mississippi State, and we’ll watch quite a bit of that. … With the opponent they opened with they didn’t have to tip off too much of what they’re gonna do. But we don’t expect them to vary very much from what he did at Mississippi State. We’ll be prepared for all that. We broke them down in the offseason.”

The Wildcats defeated Central Michigan 35-20 in its season opener last week at Kroger Field. Although not a perfect performance and a tale of two halves, Stoops was pleased with the victory.

“I thought we did some good things,” the Kentucky coach said. “After watching the film I was really proud of a lot of things we did this past Saturday. It’s always good getting the opener under your belt and getting that victory. It’ll make it much easier to be hard on our players this week about certain aspects of the game that we need to clean up and get better.”

As for his own team, Stoops remained upbeat on quarterbacks Terry Wilson and Gunnar Hoak, both of whom played in last week’s season-opener. Wilson is listed as the starter on the depth chart and will likely be the starter against the Gators.

“I think there are some things that are easy fixes, but there are that are going to be a work in progress,” Stoops said. “We have to get on that quickly. The last time we broke in a new quarterback two years ago, our turnovers were up and last year Stephen did a great job and our team did a great job and our turnovers were really down outside of the one game where it goes contagious. That can’t happen again. I know we’ll concentrate on protecting the football.”

Last weekend, protecting the football was a concern. The Wildcats committed four turnovers, including two fumbles. Overall, Kentucky fumbled the ball away three times, recovering one of those miscues, but Stoops isn’t pushing the panic button.

“Interceptions are going to happen,” he said. “Fumbles we have to avoid. Benny took a shot right on the football. He had it tucked. So he was carrying the ball the way we teach it. He just took a really good shot right on the football. We got that one back, but just being loose with it. We’ll emphasize that again, but we’re not going to panic about it.”

UNDERSTANDING SABAN

Stoops understands where Alabama coach Nick Saban is coming from when he’s addressed by the media concerning his two quarterbacks and the desire to maintaining a positive approach.

Saban was criticized for his postgame response to ESPN’s Maria Taylor following his team’s 51-14 win over Alabama last weekend in Orlando.

“I don’t think I can get after you like he can. I could but I don’t know how that’s going to go over. I know seven days later, I’ll have a big bullseye on my chest,” Stoops said. “But I did relate to the remark. I thought it was very poignant in that I don’t want to talk anything negative on any of our guys, including Danny (Clark). So people try to get you to ask what one guy’s doing, it’s insinuating that the other one’s not doing that. So I can relate to that and just want to be very positive about our guys. “

Stoops cited Hoak’s performance in the opener as an example of why he speaks highly of all of his signal callers and takes a positive approach.

“That’s a very big moment (for Hoak),” Stoops said. “It’s a great teaching moment for our team and for our young guys because he could’ve gone in the tank or moped or cried or complained or pointed fingers, but he just worried about himself and preparing and went in in a difficult situation and performed. So I’m proud of that.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Florida, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or twitter @keithtaylor21.


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