Kentucky running back Jojo Kemp made a few headlines the other day when he told reporters that the Wildcats were going to walk out of the swamp with a win against and “rub it in their faces.”
Bold, but not a smart move.
“A couple of my (high school) teammates actually went to Florida, so I’m familiar with a lot of those guys,” said Kemp, who led the team in rushing as a freshman in 2013 with 482 yards. “It’s going to be fun walking out with a victory and rubbing it in their faces.”
His words were taken out of context and slightly blown out of proportion—Kemp is from Deland, Fla. and he indicated that he has friends on the Gators’ roster—but his post-practice comments were ill-advised to say the least.
Let’s just say coach Mark Stoops isn’t an advocate for the “guaranteed” win.
“I was furious. The thing is—I was outraged; I talked to him about it—but the thing is, he was trying to make light of some friends that he has on this program,” said Stoops. “But like I told him yesterday, ‘You think they’re gonna hear all that? They’re gonna hear the last five seconds of what you said.’ And I know the great pride of the players in that locker room at Florida. I’ve been all through Florida. I’ve been at Miami, been at South Florida and been at Florida State. I know personally quite a few of those players and the pride that they have, and one thing: it’s not very smart to try to challenge their pride before you play them.
“Believe me, I know them. And so I don’t think that was very smart,” he continued. “It’s not something that I teach. It’s not how we talk. And really, if you listen to his whole conversation, he was quite humble and really handled himself the right way until the end. But again, that’s just not very smart on our part, and we’ll get that fixed.”
It would be a different story if Kemp were on the opposite team. Florida has won 27 straight games against Kentucky, dating back all the way to 1987—nine years before the sophomore running back was born. Ronald Reagan was the President of the United States the last time Florida lost to Kentucky, and its streak currently stands as the longest in-conference streak in SEC history.
Over the course of the last seven years, Florida has beaten Kentucky by an average of 32.4 points per game—the closest outcome being a competitive 45-37 finish in 2007 that featured Wildcat touchdown on the last play of the fourth quarter.
And if the Gators needed any extra motivation to keep the streak alive (which is highly unlikely), Kemp provided it. Florida has a poster of Jojo Kemp in its locker room with his comments in bold print, just adding more fuel to the fire.
— Landon Watnick (@LandonWatnick) September 10, 2014
It took the attention of Florida linebacker Michael Taylor, who was just mostly unimpressed with Kemp’s playing resume.
Heard u were talkin shit but your Kentucky’s 3rd string back pic.twitter.com/Gmf7uVDtAV
— Michael R Taylor (@theMiketaylor51) September 10, 2014
“I just wanted to respond. That was about it,” Taylor told reporters on Wednesday. “After the season we had last year and watching myself and how we played last year, there’s no extra motivation needed. This whole summer, hearing all that stuff and seeing the results of last year, no extra motivation is needed.
“We welcome that. We welcome any team that’s ready to play us because we’re going to be ready to play them. They’re on our schedule, we’re ready to play them.”
There’s unquestionable talent on the Wildcats’ roster, and Kemp isn’t excluded. A three-star prospect, he was a member of a 34th-ranked recruiting class in 2013 assembled by Stoops, which was followed by an even more impressive 2014 class that ended No. 22 in the country. Kentucky currently ranks No. 28 for the recruiting class of 2015.
Kentucky has improved and is going to continue to become more and more competitive under Stoops’ tenure, but it’s not ready to beat Florida—a team that is in a position to go under the radar and win the SEC East—on the road at the swamp. In fact, I’d be surprised if the ‘Cats can cover the 18.5-point spread.
Jojo Kemp has already learned the hard way to be careful when talking into a microphone, but it’s going to be a different experience when going up against a defensive front that has been waiting for him to line up in the Kentucky backfield since Tuesday.