LEXINGTON, KY — The words coming out of Jim McElwain’s mouth sounded foreign. Surely he was mistaken, and then he said it again. When asked to further clarify on Wednesday, McElwain again reiterated that the words he was saying were words he believed.
“I know you guys take it as coach speak,” McElwain offered as a disclaimer. “But it really, Kentucky is the team in the driver’s seat because they’re playing at home and they’re undefeated in the east.”
Kentucky has started the season 3-0 with a road win over South Carolina last week. The game started poorly for Kentucky. South Carolina scored on its first play from scrimmage. Two plays later Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson threw an interception but South Carolina missed a field goal, failing to capitalize. Kentucky coughed the ball up again, this time turning it over via fumble but would get the ball back with an interception of its own. Kentucky took an eight-point lead into the locker room and eventually held on to beat South Carolina 23-13.
The win wasn’t all that impressive, but it was still a road win inside the conference.
“They beat a team on the road that is in our side of the conference. That is huge because now you start the thing about holding the serve at home,” McElwain said. “When you look at the schedule as it lays out, it’s pretty favorable from that standpoint. The fact that they won that road game really puts them, right now, atop everything this early in the year.”
Kentucky has been building under Mark Stoops. The Wildcats have improved in every season under Stoops, aside from back to back 5-7 seasons. In 2016 Stoops led Kentucky to a bowl game for the first time since 2011. Kentucky has also won eight of its last 11 games and 10 of its last 13.
“This staff has done an outstanding job,” said McElwain. “His years that he’s been there, they’ve built it to this. I’ll say it even back to when we played against them when I was at another school in this league, by far the best overall Kentucky team that they’ve had there in a long time.”
Perhaps McElwain is right. Kentucky is 1-0 in the SEC and they have a shot to go 2-0 by winning at home. Florida is also 1-0 but they’ll be trying to get to 2-0 in SEC play on the road at a sold out Kroger Field.
However, the funny thing about the driver’s seat is how quickly it can change. If Kentucky doesn’t end a three decade long losing streak on Sunday it will be the Gators that take their place with a road win inside the division, returning home to hold serve the next three weeks.
“What does the driver’s seat mean? It means you’ve got to go the next one, right? It simply means that. But at the same time, you sure put yourself in a position to be at that spot toward the end.”