Sports 31 and Done! After Kentucky ends streak, ‘Gator Standard’ is clearly sub-standard

Sports

It seemed only fitting that new Florida Gators coach Dan Mullen’s first game against Kentucky on Saturday night came on the night the Gators celebrated the 25th anniversary of their 1993 team — a team that beat Alabama in the SEC Championship Game, won a school-first Sugar Bowl and, yes, showed that beating Kentucky is part of the living up to the “Gator Standard” Mullen talks so much about.

Mullen’s team failed its first major “standardized” test on Saturday when the Wildcats — for the first time since the Reagan administration — beat the Gators and ended a startling streak of futility that had lasted for more than three decades.

31 and Done!

Kentucky 27, Florida 16.

How bad was it?

So bad that reserve running back Adarius Lemons tweeted from the post-game locker room that he was quitting the team.

This is what happens when you lose to Kentucky.

It’s official: The last vestige of Gator dominance is now gone. After the hopeful euphoria created by Mullen’s 53-6 debut victory over Charleston Southern last week, Gator Nation came crashing back to reality on a night when the Wildcats steam-rolled Florida’s defense to the tune of 303 rushing yards and quarterback Feleipe Franks once again looked jittery and inaccurate.

It was clear for all to see on Saturday night that rebuilding the Gator Standard is going to be a major renovation project. Let us not forget Mullen took over a team that was 4-7 last year. It was delusional to think he was going to come in and immediately turn a soft, weak-minded program into a championship contender. You could tell after the game, Mullen was ultra-concerned about how his team got manhandled by Kentucky.

“We have to learn how to practice every single day,” Mullen said of his team’s lack of toughness. “I think our guys think practices are supposed to be like walk-throughs. They have to learn how to practice the right way. It’s a mindset … It’s a mindset that takes some time. And I’m not a very patient person.”

On this night, there would be no miracles like in ’93 – the year the Gator Standard unofficially began. Steve Spurrier’s Gators threw seven interceptions that night in Lexington, but still beat Kentucky on the legendary 28-yard pass from Danny Wuerffel to Chris Doering in the final dramatic seconds.

Gator radio voice Mick Hubert’s call of the play — ending with him going bonkers and simply screaming into the microphone, “DOERING’S GOT A TOUCHDOWN! DOERING’S GOT A TOUCHDOWN! OH MY, DOERING’S GOT A TOUCHDOWN!!!”— is the most famous call in UF history.

It’s inexplicable how Doering got open in the end zone; just as it was inexplicable last year when Kentucky led by 13 in the fourth quarter and twice left UF receivers uncovered for touchdowns. First and foremost, the Gator Standard has always been about beating Kentucky.

“There are certain games you look at on the schedule as a player that you just assume you’re going to win, and Kentucky was one of those teams when I was at Florida,” Doering told me once. “Once we beat them in ’93 in the last second that just further caused our confidence to grow. We knew they wouldn’t beat us after that. Unfortunately for them, they knew it, too. The mental advantage for us became huge.”

This mental advantage and inherent confidence has spanned a generation and is probably why current Florida safety Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, when asked about the streak earlier this week, replied nonchalantly: “It’s 31, right? It’ll be 32 after Saturday.”

For obvious reasons, Mullen tried to downplay the significance of college football’s longest active winning streak over an opponent and the fourth-longest in history. Who can blame him? After all these years, what UF coach wants to be identified with losing to Kentucky? Seven previous Gators coaches had beaten the UK during the streak, and they all haven’t been great coaches. In fact, Ron Zook, Will Muschamp, Jim McElwain and Galen Hall all went undefeated against Kentucky and would eventually end up getting fired.

Until Saturday night, the last time Kentucky beat Florida was Nov. 15, 1986 when the Wildcats took an SEC slobber-knocking 10-3 victory over the Gators. Hard to believe how much the world has changed in the 11,620 days since the streak began and ended.

The last time the Kentucky won, the USFL had just folded, the Tampa Bay Bandits closed up shop and Spurrier was out of a job. Mullen was a freshman in high school. Two Gator assistant coaches – Brian Johnson and Christian Robinson – weren’t even born yet.

At Mullen’s introductory news conference and all of his speeches on the booster club circuit during the offseason, he perpetually preached how he welcomed the challenge of restoring the Gator Standard. It’s a standard that began under Spurrier that day in 1993 when Doering split the Kentucky secondary and the Gators somehow, someway found a way to win.

That 1993 season truly began the golden age of Florida football. The Gators set the SEC record for points and yards that year and won the first of four consecutive conference titles. — something Nick Saban himself has never even accomplished.

“I think that 1993 team is overlooked in terms of what it meant in terms of changing the trajectory of the program,” says Doering, now an analyst on the SEC Network.

Clearly, the trajectory has taken a downward tumble in recent years and the Gator Standard has become the Gator Substandard.

31 and Done.

The last time the Wildcats beat the Gators in 1986, “Licensed to Ill” by the Beastie Boys debuted and became the first hip-hop album to hit No. 1.

Here we are more than three decades later and the Gators are finding out what the Beasties preached all those years ago.

“You gotta fight

For your right

To party!”

Even when you’re playing Kentucky.

Email me at mbianchi@orlandosentinel.com. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.

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