Loss to Kentucky helped Gators turn season around

Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks gets pressure from a Kentucky defender during last year's game at Florida Field. The Gators lost 27-16 [Alan Youngblood/Gainesville Sun]

That has been no talk of revenge or redemption coming out of the Florida football camp this week. No vows of payback.

That’s because as painful and devastating as that home loss to Kentucky was last season — the one that ended the Gators’ 31-game winning streak in the series — it actually ended up helping them more than hurting them in the long run.

It helped turn the Gators and their 2018 season around.

“It was an eye-opener,” quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “That we should never take a team lightly no matter what people say about them. There should be a standard at which you play at, every game no matter who you are playing. If you’re playing below that standard, then that’s not right and that’s not how we’re going to win.

“We made that very clear after last year’s loss and going into this season that there’s a standard at which you play at and if you’re not up to that standard, don’t go out there and expect to win.”

In the 27-16 loss, the Gators clearly did not play up to what they now consider their standard. They turned the ball over and were undisciplined, blowing assignments and missing tackles and opportunities. They seemed emotionally flat and not focused.

But the biggest eye-opener of all is how much the Wildcats physically pushed around the Gators. They outtoughed them, winning both lines of scrimmage.

It was a revealing defeat, one that made the UF players and coaches take a critical look at themselves and how they were doing things.

“It’s very much easier to learn when you lose,” Franks said. “When you get too complacent you start to play below the standard and then you lose and then you realize, ‘You know what, we didn’t do this right, we didn’t do this, that and the other. We need to go out there and correct those mistakes.’

“Losing is the easier way to learn that lesson. Not a fun way, but an easier way.”

Lessons certainly were learned in the loss, and changes were made. The intensity in practices was turned up and the sessions were more physical and focused. More attention was paid to detail to try and eliminate the mistakes and missed assignments.

The new approach worked.

The following Saturday, the Gators blew out Colorado State, then did the same to Tennessee a week later, routing the Vols in Knoxville 47-21.

That loss to the Wildcats spawned a five-game winning streak that turned the season around for Florida.

“We got a little bit of a sense of urgency about the game and who we were playing,” senior wide receiver Josh Hammond said. “The loss helped us tremendously because we knew at that point that nobody was going to come and give us anything, we had to work and earn everything we were going to get.

“That changed the motivation to that we needed to go harder in practice, we needed to make sure we execute at a high level in practice and on a day-to-day basis in practice to continue to win these ball games on Saturday.

“It worked out for us and we were able to go to Knoxville and roll and continued to roll. That’s the momentum that we’re gonna try to start this weekend.”

The Gators say they’re motivated for Saturday night’s game in Lexington. But they say that motivation does not come from what happened in last year’s game.

“That game has no effect on this year’s game at all,” Franks said. “They have different players, we have different players, some of the same players, some of them not. We try to prepare this week to go out there and play this year’s Kentucky team and I think that’s the funnest part. It doesn’t have any effect, last year’s game.”

Dan Mullen agrees with his quarterback.

“I don’t see how it has much effect on this year’s game,” the UF coach said. “They did a good job, won the game last year. We grew a lot from that as a team within our program and where we are.”

One player who has a reason to take this game personally is sophomore cornerback Marco Wilson, who injured his knee on the first defensive series on a questionable hit and missed the rest of the season.

But he’s not taking it personally.

“I just want to win,” Wilson said. “That’s the only thing on my mind, I want to win and dominate whoever is in front of me.

“I’m not worried about what happened last year, I know we lost. I don’t want that to happen again. It’s not a good feeling to lose, so definitely just want to work on going out there and focusing on little things and make sure we get the W this time.”


Who: No. 9 Florida (2-0) vs. Kentucky (2-0)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Lexington, Ky.


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850


  1. Whatever team Gators play on the road and whatever the sport, those home fans and the team are always screaming to smash the Gators because they are THE UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA and they remember the terrible beatings the Gators put on them in prior seasons. It’s a burden that Gator teams wear proudly when on the road. Let’s have Gators start another 31-game winning streak.

  2. If Tim Tebow’s quote after the loss to Ole Miss isn’t posted prominently in the Gator locker room, it should be. That’s the prototype that each member of this team should take into every game — especially this one. Go in there with that type of character and the sense of urgency that results from it, and you’ll walk out of there with your heads held high, guys. BRING ON THE CHOMP as our pal 65 would say. Can I get an Amen?

  3. Interesting to remember that both of the Gators’ lines were dominated by UK. In the aftermath of Willie’s hydration comments about the Noles, it was brought up that once you’re into the season, it’s too late for S&C, nutrition, etc., to help you that season. It seems to make sense, but how, then, did the UF OL go from being pushed around against UK, to holding their own, and then actually doing the pushing? I’m guessing coaching of technique and instilling a desire that was previously lacking.

    • Combination of both, I suspect, since you’ve got a very good point about the S&C taking full effect that early on. Coaching is certainly a factor, but that last one — instilling a desire — that’s good old fashioned LEADERSHIP, not management, and that’s truly the spark that got some sense of urgency and character in the team. Good analysis, Joe.