GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Coach Urban Meyer raised eyebrows last weekend when he called Florida's game against Kentucky a coin flip.
Really? A 50-50 shot? At home? Against Kentucky?
Maybe that's how much confidence Meyer has in his lethargic offense, which has yet to score in the first quarter, has been predictable on first down and keeps putting the ball on the ground. Or maybe he's trying to motivate players for a trap game, one sandwiched between a victory at rival Tennessee and a rematch against defending national champion and top-ranked Alabama.
Either way, Meyer got his team's attention. The ninth-ranked Gators (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) are treating Saturday's game against the Wildcats (3-0) like the Eastern Division title is on the line. Sure, Florida has won 23 in a row in the series, the second-longest active streak between two Football Bowl Subdivision teams in an uninterrupted series.
But don't expect that to come up this week, at least not in Florida's locker room.
"Honestly, no lie, I just found out Kentucky hasn't beat us in 23 years," guard Carl Johnson said. "I didn't know it was that long. We don't really think about that or say we don't want to be the team that breaks the streak.
"We just want to win the SEC East, so if that means going through Kentucky to get it, then guess what, we've got to go through Kentucky."
Meyer told his players that's no easy task. Not this year.
The Wildcats won three games by a combined 79 points. They are averaging 44 points and 497 yards a game, haven't turned the ball over and have three of the most dynamic offensive players in the league.
Quarterback Mike Hartline ranks third in passing yards. Running back Derrick Locke is the SEC's leading rusher and scorer. And versatile receiver Randall Cobb is eighth in receptions and fourth in all-purpose yards.
Together, they might have a chance to end the streak.
"It's something everyone wants to do here," said Kentucky linebacker Ricky Lumpkin, whose team also has long losing streaks against Tennessee (25) and South Carolina (15). "If you end a streak here, you'll go down forever in history. You'll come back as the 2009-2010 Wildcats that ended the streak against Florida. You come back for bowl wins, you come back for everything else."
Kentucky's last win against the Gators came on Nov. 15, 1986, a 10-3 victory in Lexington.
There have been several close calls since.
Quarterback Pookie Jones nearly rallied Kentucky from a 22-point deficit in 1991, but the Gators used a long drive late to seal a 35-26 victory and clinch the first SEC title in school history.
Maybe Kentucky's most gut-wrenching loss came two years later. Terry Dean and Danny Wuerffel combined to throw seven interceptions in Lexington, but with 8 seconds remaining, Wuerffel hooked up with Chris Doering for a 28-yard score and a 24-20 victory.
Derek Abney looked like he might single-handily end the streak in 2002. He scored on a kickoff return, a punt return and a reception. But Florida's Keiwan Ratliff intercepted a pass on a two-point conversion and returned it the other way to put the Gators ahead for good, 41-34.
Kentucky had another chance the following year. The Cats were up 21-3 entering the fourth quarter and looked like they might stave off Chris Leak's comeback attempt. But Jared Lorenzen threw an interception that was returned to the 1. Florida scored on the next play to go ahead 24-21 with 3:15 remaining. Kentucky's Taylor Begley missed a 49-yard field goal attempt with 44 seconds left.
Neither team could stop the other in 2007. Behind Andre Woodson, the Wildcats cut the lead to 38-31 in the fourth. But Tim Tebow responded with a long pass to Percy Harvin, which set up a short TD run to seal it.
The last two meetings have been routs, with Florida blocking kicks, hitting big plays and scoring a combined 59 points in the first quarter.
The Gators would rather extend the streak without any help from Kentucky and certainly without a coin flip.
"Sooner or later the streak's gonna end," Florida defensive line coach Dan McCarney said. "We sure don't want it Saturday night. But we know it's going to happen sometime. Streaks are made to be broken. I'm sure that's what they're selling to the Kentucky players and coaches, and we're going to do everything we can to try to keep it going."