The task could be even more difficult for the Wildcats (3-5) after Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops announced earlier this week that 18 players and 10 staff members will likely miss Saturday’s contest in Gainesville because of injuries and COVID-19 contact tracing.
“We can’t afford (to lose) anymore,” Stoops said Wednesday.
The team was scheduled to undergo testing again Thursday, and Stoops is hopeful his team will have enough staff and players to make the trip to Gainesville. Kentucky was without 10 players in last week’s 63-3 loss at top-ranked Alabama, and Stoops said the uncertainty adds to the difficulty of preparing for an opponent on a weekly basis.
“It’s very difficult — it’s very difficult to pick your players up each and every day but we’re going to try our best and we’re going to continue to fight,” Stoops said. “Again, we will be there (at Florida) and we’ll play. There are issues we are dealing with but we’ll be there.”
In Kentucky’s last visit to The Swamp, the Wildcats handed the No. 6 Gators a memorable 27-16 setback, ending a 31-game losing streak to Florida. Kentucky has closed the gap between the two teams as five of the past six games have gone down to the wire, mostly in the Gators' favor. Last year, Florida erased an 11-point deficit in the fourth quarter and defeated the Wildcats 29-21 in Lexington.
For the second straight week, the Wildcats will face one of the best quarterbacks in the league. After watching Alabama signal-caller Mac Jones throw for 230 yards and two touchdowns, the defense will face Florida’s Heisman Trophy candidate Kyle Trask.
“I knew watching him last year against us that he was a special talent,” Stoops said. “He certainly has gotten better with every opportunity. He is really, really confident, what he is doing and how he is throwing the ball.”
Coming off the lopsided loss to the Crimson Tide, Stoops said the Wildcats simply have to “go out and play better.”
“There is nobody that really cares about the extenuating circumstances,” he said. “And we don’t as staff either. ... We have to go out and do a better job and we will. I anticipate that our players will respond. … There is nobody giving up around here.
“There are going to be guys that go out there and play extremely hard, and we are going to coach extremely hard, and we are going to get better. We will get through this. We have been through difficult times before and we will get through it again.”
Although struggling, the Wildcats aren’t alone in this pandemic season. Nine teams in the league, including Kentucky, have three victories or less.
“It is what it is,” Stoops said. ‘We are not alone.”
Gametracker: Kentucky at Florida, noon, Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.