Quarterback Sawyer Smith’s first-ever start as a Wildcat, the eligibility of linebacker transfer Xavier Peters and an upcoming matchup against a longtime foe were the talking points of the UK football team’s post-practice press conference on Wednesday evening.
After a 27-16 victory last year in Gainesville ended the Cats’ 31-game losing streak to Florida, the Cats have a chance to rewrite the rivalry in their favor. UK hasn’t defeated Florida in Lexington since 1986 and has a chance to do so in a sold-out, primetime setting.
All of those elements going into this Saturday can warrant a range of emotions from a player. Outside linebacker Jamar “Boogie” Watson attests to that.
“It’s pretty hard. Everyone’s family is talking about it. ESPN, you know, a primetime game, so it’s hard,” Watson said. “But this game is meant to be played with emotions. Emotions can be good. You just got to control the penalties and play with passion.”
Defensive lineman Phil Hoskins doesn’t seem too worried about the rivalry though. After sitting out the first two games of the season, Hoskins’ focus is on the 2019 season.
“It’s the past. You want to keep winning games, so you always want to keep winning. But you got to focus on this year and getting wins for the 2019 season,” Hoskins said.
Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Brad White sees the benefit in getting pumped up before a big game.
“The young guys, I think we have to let them play with that adrenaline. We can’t play wide-eyed. We can’t play scared. We can’t play nervous,” White said. “We got to play calm like we’ve been there. And so, let them play with some confidence and swagger.”
Peters’ immediate eligibility to play for the Cats has his fellow teammates excited. Linebacker Kash Daniel expressed his excitement to Peters during practice Wednesday, saying that he could tell Peters was “a little more excited.”
“I went and gave him a big hug. I know how it’s been on him, his mind and his family and his son and trying to be a great father. It’s a sigh of relief to have him out there with us,” Daniel said.
Meanwhile, Smith is molding into his new role as starting quarterback. This is nothing new to Smith though: Not only is did he see playing time while at Troy University, but he was also named the Trojans’ starting quarterback after Kaleb Barker fell to injury last season.
“I’ve been practicing constantly probably since fall camp just so I can get used to this new offense. But that doesn’t change anything. Obviously it’s a different role, but nothing really changes,” Sawyer said.
He acknowledges that having experience playing against big teams helps leading into Saturday.
“I played Nebraska last year and they’re just about the biggest team that you can play. Probably weren’t as fast as Florida is gonna be, but I’ve seen size, and I’ve seen speed.”
The Cats will face the Florida Gators at Kroger Field this coming Saturday at 7 p.m. on ESPN.