By LARRY VAUGHT
As SEC Network analyst Tom Hart watched Kentucky blow a fourth-quarter lead and lose to Florida for the 31st straight time last year at Kroger Field, a few words to describe the debacle where Kentucky twice left a Florida receiver uncovered at the line of scrimmage went through his mind.
“Mind boggling, heart breaking, gut punching,” said Hart.
He’ll be in Gainesville Saturday night calling the game again when UK hopes to end the nation’s longest consecutive losing streak to one team.
Yet he still remembers a scene from his plane ride back home after last year’s UK loss.
“The woman sitting behind us knew what we did. She told us she had been a season ticket holder for 30 years and said she was never going back,” Hart said. “She was dead serious. She was that upset. When you leave a guy uncovered not once but twice, have a key holding penalty to negate a run that put you in position for a winning field goal … Kentucky just did so many things wrong when it was in position to win.
“I’ve got to admit. I have not seen anything quite like leaving a guy uncovered not once but twice to give up two touchdowns.”
Hart told Kentucky coach Mark Stoops this week he admired the way he was able to get his team to regroup after that devastating loss. He admitted it was the toughest loss he had ever dealt with but he got them to come back and have a solid, if not good, season. You cannot over appreciate how difficult it is to take that kick to the gut and then meet with your kids and tell them they still need to believe in us (the coaching staff) and trust us.”
Kentucky is a 15-point underdog Saturday night and Hart can understand why UK fans might feel like the Cats will never beat the Gators.
“But Kentucky absolutely has a chance to win this game. Kentucky was the better team last year,” Hart said. “I called that game and the atmosphere at Commonwealth (now Kroger Field) was incredible. Maybe the best I have ever seen there. I’ve been there for a couple of big games, including South Carolina a few years ago, but the Kentucky fans were great that night.”
Florida had seven players suspended for its opening game and six more out with injuries. Florida coach Dan Mullen won’t reveal until sometime Saturday if all or any of the players will play against Kentucky.
“If they all return, obviously it’s a big difference in the Gators,” Hart said. “Kentucky is a talented, physical team. I think they have a great defensive team this year. Florida has great speed on the edge and the defensive line is pretty good. But I think Kentucky’s defensive guys up front have an opportunity to get to the quarterback. The Florida offensive line has not been what it has been. It will be interesting to see how aggressive (UK defensive coordinator) Matt House decides to be.”
Florida has questions at linebacker, so Hart — like a lot of Kentucky fans — looks for tight end C.J. Conrad to have a big game after making just three catches for nine yards in last week’s win.
“I think he’ll have a much bigger role in the game plan given Florida’s linebacker situation,” Hart said. “I know he’s a talented receiver who can create big mismatches. He can be valuable all over the field.”
Count Hart as a fan of former walk-on David Bouvier, UK’s starting receiver who had a touchdown catch last week. Hart said Bouvier reminds him of former NFL star Wesley Welker.
“What a great story David Bouvier is. Given his size and reliability, he’s so much like Wes Welker,” Hart said. “He catches everything that comes his way and who knows, maybe he’ll have another big game against Florida.”