Kerwin Bell can still remember the frustration he felt after losing to Kentucky in 1986.
“It was really tough for us,” the former Gators quarterback said. “It was raining and it was really cold. We just didn’t do anything offensively. The thing I remember the most is it was a frustrating day on our side of the ball.”
Bell struggled in the contest, throwing two interceptions as the Gators fell to the Wildcats 10-3 in Lexington, Ky.
Florida hasn’t lost to Kentucky since.
The Gators have strung together 28 consecutive wins over the Wildcats. Florida hopes to continue that streak, which began in 1987, when it travels to take on Kentucky (2-0) on Saturday (7:30 p.m., SEC Network).
“When I graduated, I didn’t think [the streak] would last this long because they always played us tough,” said Bell, who is now the head football coach at Jacksonville University. “It’s a pretty amazing streak to be able to do that in the SEC.”
But it’s getting tougher for the Gators to extend the streak, as the Wildcats have closed the gap under coach Mark Stoops.
Florida beat Kentucky by an average of 36.5 points over six meetings from 2008 through 2013. The Gators needed three overtimes to edge out a 36-30 win over the Wildcats in the Swamp last season, though.
Florida is favored by just 3.5 points in this year’s contest after Kentucky opened eyes with a road win over South Carolina last week. It marked the Wildcats’ first SEC road win since 2009.
“We’re as far from being overconfident in anything that we do based on kind of what we’ve been through,” Gators first-year coach Jim McElwain said of the team’s approach entering Saturday’s matchup. “I’m sure [Kentucky] feels like they had that game won a year ago.”
McElwain is right.
“It was very disappointing,” Stoops said Wednesday of last year’s loss to Florida. “I really felt like we had too many opportunities to win the game.”
Gators players have avoided discussion surrounding the streak throughout the week, instead putting the focus on themselves. It’s probably a smart decision after Florida limped its way to a narrow 31-24 win over East Carolina last week.
The Gators are even still looking for a full-time starting quarterback, as redshirt freshman Will Grier and sophomore Treon Harris are expected to split snaps at quarterback for the third consecutive week Saturday. Grier will start the game.
“I think it’s more what we need to do, what we need to do to win,” Gators tight end Jake McGee said. “Whether you’ve beaten a team for a long time or you lost to them last year, the goal is to win. That’s our mission this week and that’s what we’re going to be working pretty hard out here to do.”
Kentucky isn’t avoiding discussion surrounding the streak, though.
“We brought it up,” Stoops said. “We’re not going to hide from those things. These kids know. They hear it.”
Bell hears it, too.
The former Gators quarterback gets a call around this time every year with requests to speak about Florida’s last loss to Kentucky in 1986. But it doesn’t bother Bell enough for him to root for a Gators loss.
“I would be happy to take these calls the next 20 years as long as we win,” he said.