LEXINGTON — Dan Mullen was impressed with Kentucky’s comeback win over Central Michigan and likes the way the Wildcats fought through adversity in the Wildcats’ season-opener last week.
“You look at Kentucky and what Mark (Stoops) has done there, and you look, even at game one, you see what kind of team they are,” he said. “They fall behind in game one, in the home opener, in a game, I think most people think they should win. You watch their team, no panic.”
The Wildcats fell behind 17-7 in the first half but outscored the Chippewas 28-3 during the remainder to the contest to overcome a slow start that featured four turnovers — two fumbles and two interceptions — in the opening half.
“It’s a team that has expectations,” Mullen said. “They know how to win, have learned how to win and what it takes to come back and win the game. They have a lot of talented players, a lot returning starters and very veteran defense with guys who have played a lot of football. They have some playmakers on offense, great running back. A bunch of guys out there on the perimeter. So, it’ll be a great challenge.”
Although the Wildcats (1-0) have come close to defeating their Southeastern Conference East rival during the past five years including a crushing 28-27 setback a year ago, the Gators have won 31 straight over Kentucky, the fourth-longest streak in the nation.
The last win by the Wildcats came in 1986 when Kentucky inched out a 10-3 victory at Kroger Field, snapping a six-game losing streak. Kentucky hasn’t won in Gainesville since 31-3 win at Florida Field in 1979, a string of four victories in a six-year period. Since then, it’s been all Gators all the time.
Kentucky linebacker Kash Daniel said ending the streak would give the Wildcats a boost, but added it’s not the only source of motivation for Kentucky this week.
‘We look at it as our first SEC opponent that we have to get over the top of if we want to be in Atlanta this year,” Daniel said. “The streak is not going to be (in the) forefront of your mind, but it’s also not going to be out of your mind completely. It’s in the back (of your mind), but ultimately we’re here to win an SEC East game and hopefully, that will propel us into the national spotlight and get us to Atlanta.”
To reach that goal, the Wildcats can’t afford mistakes on offense similar to four miscues that put Kentucky’s defense in a bind, especially in the first two quarters during the opener.
“One of them got hit out by a helmet, no excuse there,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran said earlier this week. “We’ve still got to keep it high and tight. Loose on the one. Throwing the ball up in the air for grabs. Got to learn from that. Run the ball. If you’re going to throw those, back or the corner of the end zone. Us or nobody throws. So, I hope to god we get that fixed. We have to. Can’t go anywhere and turn the ball over like that and expect to win.”
“You turn the ball over four times there and it won’t be good. When we go anywhere. We’re lucky, very lucky. The defense played great, we played sloppy at times and we’ve got to get it cleaned up.”
Kentucky quarterback Terry Wilson, who was responsible for three of his team’s four turnovers last week, agreed with Gran and added that going against the Wildcats’ defense on a weekly basis will help prepare him for his first visit to Gainesville.
“There are no do-overs in a game,” Wilson said. “You make a mistake that’s just what it is. I’ve been out here going against our defense and they’ve been giving me good looks and those guys are awesome on that side of the ball. That helps me out a lot and (helps me) get used to that speed.”
It will come in handy this weekend in the Swamp.
Gametracker: Kentucky at Florida, Saturday, 7:30 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.