Abolverdi's analysis: UK trending up under Stoops, but still not on Gators' level yet

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports

Wildcats coach Mark Stoops has changed the complexion of the Florida-Kentucky series since his hiring in 2013. 

Stoops is 1-7 against UF, but the games have been much more competitive than his record indicates. He took the Gators to triple overtime in his second year and has lost by a total of 14 points in the last three matchups in Lexington. 

Stoops notably snapped the program's 31-game losing streak to Florida in 2018, which led to the third 10-win season in school history and the first since 1977.

“I always give Mark a lot of credit,” Mullen said this week of Stoops. “I think he’s built a program the right way and it shows with their consistency with how they’ve won the last several years.”

Stoops has improved Kentucky’s recruiting and talent level, but so too has Mullen during his time in Gainesville. For all the strides the Wildcats have made under Stoops, they’re still playing catch-up with Florida and trying to get over the hump in the SEC East. 

The Gators’ once dormant offense is now dominant, while their defense — despite last year’s struggles — has led the SEC in sacks since 2019, when it was a top-10 unit. 

More importantly, Mullen dethroned three-time Eastern division champion Georgia in 2020 and has built the only roster in college football that competed with Alabama the past two seasons. 

“Got great respect for Dan and the job that he does,” Stoops said of Mullen. “I think you look at defending him offensively, it’s always a real challenge. He has the ability to adapt to the players around him and really make it difficult to get stops.”

Despite Kentucky’s success so far as a top-10 defense, the unit has struggled to get stops this season. The Wildcats are No. 87 nationally in opponent third-down conversions at 41 percent, while Florida’s third-down offense ranks in the top 20.  

The Gators converted nine of their 14 third-down attempts against Tennessee, and that efficiency should continue at Kroger Field.

UF’s rushing attack, led by dual-threat quarterbacks Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson, will be able to control the clock and move the chains to keep drives alive. Defensively, look for Florida’s pass rush to get some sacks on UK quarterback Will Levis and force a turnover that will be the difference in the game. 

Prediction: Florida 31, Kentucky 24