Mark Zerof / USA TODAY Sports

Defense stars in Gators 14-9 win at Kentucky

Florida's defense was there all night and finished off the big win in Lexington.

Florida’s defense showed what it’s made of Saturday night in Lexington. In a fourth quarter in which the Gators lived in the shadow of their own goal posts, the UF defense made the big plays when it had to, allowing the Gators to escape with a 14-9 win in a very hostile Commonwealth Stadium environment and extending Florida’s win streak over Kentucky to 29 years.

Leading 14-3 heading into the fourth quarter, the Gators held the Wildcats to two field goals then came up with a Quincy Wilson interception with 33 seconds remaining in the game to seal the win in Florida’s first SEC game of the season. In moving to 3-0 on the season and 1-0 in the SEC, the Gators made a couple of first half touchdowns stand by holding the Wildcats to 241 yards. Florida held the Wildcats to 241 total yards, picked off two Kentucky passes and sacked quarterback Patrick Towles six times for 50 yards in losses.

“It’s a great win,” Florida head coach Jim McElwain said. “It’s an SEC road win. Those things are hard to come by. We’re figuring out a way to win and that’s good. The defense – they kind of get excited when it seems the chips are against them.”

Florida’s defense had to come up big to overcome an offense that sputtered, a blocked field goal, too many penalties and two blown scoring opportunities in the third quarter. Florida managed only 285 offensive yards – 160 on the ground and 125 through the air – and failed to convert on nine of 11 third downs.

It was a penalty that was responsible for the blocked field goal in the second quarter when the Gators held a 7-3 lead. Having marched down the field from their own 15 to the Kentucky 12, a false start killed the momentum of the drive to force a 29-yard field goal attempt. Austin Hardin’s first attempt split the uprights but just as the ball was snapped the Gators were flagged for delay of game. Moved five yards back, C.J. Conrad split two blockers to get a hand on the field goal attempt.

In the third quarter, the Gators had a golden opportunity to score on their first possession when freshman Antonio Callaway returned a Landon Foster punt 37 yards to the Kentucky 28, but from there the Gators moved in reverse and had to punt the ball away. Later in the quarter, the defense forced a punt that gave the Gators exceptional field position at the UK 44. Five straight running plays got the ball to the Kentucky 12 where Will Grier connected with Demarcus Robinson for a 7-yard pass to the 5 for a first and goal. But, on first down, Grier’s pass to Jake McGee in the end zone was picked off by J.D. Harmon.

That pick ignited Kentucky’s dormant offense, which drove the ball from the UK 20 to the UF two where the Wildcats couldn’t get the ball into the end zone. From first-and-goal at the two, the Wildcats lost three yards and had to settle for an Austin MacGinnis field goal to cut the margin to 14-6.

Following a three-and-out by the Gators, the Wildcats got a 45-yard Towles to Jeff Badet completion for a first down at the UF 24 but a third down sack by Alex McCalister killed the drive and forced a 45-yard field goal by MacGinnis with 10:57 to go.

Kentucky had one last shot with less than two minutes to go. A 20-yard Towles to Dorian Baker pass on fourth down gave the Wildcats a first down at their own 47 but again the Florida defense made the big plays. On third and 10, Jonathan Bullard sacked Towles for a 12-yard loss and on fourth down, Wilson picked off Towles to end the threat.

Grier got the start at quarterback and played the entire game, completing 13-22 passes for 125 yards and running 12 times for a team-leading 61 yards and a TD.

The Gators play host to Tennessee next Saturday afternoon in The Swamp.

FIRST QUARTER

FLORIDA 7, KENTUCKY 0; 8:48

Vernon Hargreaves III set up the first touchdown of the game when he intercepted a tipped pass and returned it 53 yards to the Kentucky 19 on UK’s first possession of the game. It took the Gators five plays to get into the end zone, a 1-yard scramble by Will Grier, who outran the Kentucky defense to the pylon with 8:48 to go on fourth and goal. Kelvin Taylor had four carries for 18 yards on the drive with runs of 11 and 6 yards. Austin Hardin’s extra point made it 7-0.

KENTUCKY 3, FLORIDA 7; 2:09

Kentucky answered Florida’s touchdown with a 14-play, 64-yard drive that ended with a 29-yard field goal by Austin MacGinnis with 2:09 left in the first quarter. The Gators were burned twice on third down, allowing Kentucky to extend the drive. A 13-yard Patrick Towles to Mike Horton screen pass allowed the Wildcats to convert a third-and-7 from their own 39. A 17-yard run by Stanley Williams on third-and-14 gave the Wildcats a first down at the UF 11 but the Florida defense stuffed two runs and forced an incompletion, forcing UK to send in MacGinnis for the field goal.

SECOND QUARTER

FLORIDA 14, KENTUCKY 3; 0:14

The Gators put together their most impressive drive of the season, driving 57 yards in 10 plays to score on a 3-yard run by Kelvin Taylor with 14 seconds remaining in the half. On the drive, Grier went 4-4 passing for 44 yards and picked up another seven on the ground. The key play on the game was a 7-yard Grier to Jake McGee completion on a third-and-8 that set up a 6-yard run by Taylor for the first down to the Kentucky 31. From there it took three plays to get into the end zone – an 18-yard pass to Grier, a 10-yard pass to Brandon Powell and the touchdown run by Taylor.

At the half, the Gators outgained Kentucky 165-100 with Grier going 8-12 for 94 yards. Grier was Florida’s leading rusher with 36 yards on seven carries. Florida’s defense came up with the Hargreaves interception and sacks by Alex McCalister (-7 yards), Jonathan Bullard (-9) and Keanu Neal (-10).

FOURTH QUARTER

KENTUCKY 6, FLORIDA 14; 14:50

After the Gators blew two consecutive golden scoring opportunities including a Grier interception in the end zone on first-and-goal from the UK 5, Kentucky responded with its first sustained drive since the first quarter. The key play was a 33-yard third down scramble by Towles on which the Gators missed two chances to stop the UK quarterback before he got to the first down marker. Complicating things for the Gators, the zebras missed a takedown on Hargreaves and there was a 15-yard personal foul penalty. From the Florida 31, the Wildcats converted a third down when JoJo Kemp ran 12 yards straight up the gut to the UF 13 and a fourth-and-2 at the UF 5. But on the next three plays, the Florida defense came up big and forced a 22-yard MacGinnis field goal.

KENTUCKY 9, FLORIDA 14; 10:57

Following a three-and-out on Florida’s next possession, Kentucky once again got a big play and threatened a touchdown. Towles’ first pass completion of the second half was a 45-yarder to Jeff Badet, who slipped behind Brian Poole for a gain to the UF 24. Once again, the Florida defense came up big with Alex McCalister sacking Towles on third down for a 7-yard loss to force a 45-yard field with 10:57 left in the game.


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