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Whatever it was, a completely different team showed up Saturday. Last week’s team looked like a team that will struggle to avoid being an SEC bottom feeder. This week’s team looked good enough to win the SEC East for a second straight year because Florida’s 45-7 win over the Wildcats in the SEC opener wasn’t as close as the score might indicate.
“I thought today we took a big step in coming together as a true football team with a common goal,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said, noting the Gators played well and dominated in all three phases of the game.
Whereas the Gators struggled to find any measure of offensive consistency against UMass, they piled up 564 yards against Kentucky with 320 through the air and another 244 on the ground. The defense showed up in a big way, holding Kentucky to 149 yards, 80 of which came against Florida’s backups late in the fourth quarter when the Wildcats averted a shutout. The Gators forced 4 turnovers (3 interceptions, 1 fumble), sacked the QB 4 times, had 8 tackles for loss and held Kentucky to 3 pass completions. Kentucky threw for more than 300 yards last week in the season opener with Southern Mississippi.
This was the second consecutive game in which the Gators held their opponent to less than 200 total yards. In two games this season, the Gators have given up 196 passing yards and 140 rushing yards.
Unlike last week when the Gators were content to dink and dunk, McElwain opened up the passing game. Luke Del Rio, who averaged only 5.8 yards per pass attempt last week, was 19-32 for 320 yards and 4 TDs, an average of 10 yards per attempt. He completed passes to nine different receivers with touchdown passes of 78 yards to Antonio Callaway, 5 yards to Brandon Powell, 26 yards to Freddie Swain and 28 yards to Lamical Perine.
The Gators averaged less than 4 yards per carry last week but the running game came alive from the opening drive. The Gators ran 50 plays (4.9 yards per carry) for 244 yards, with Perine leading the way with 17 carries for 105 yards. Mark Thompson ran for 59, Jordan Scarlett 43 and Jordan Cronkrite 29.
On the receiving end, Callaway caught 5 passes for 129 yards while Brandon Powell had 4 catches for 43.
The Gators completely dominated time of possession, holding onto the ball for 37:26 while converting an astounding 14-20 on third downs and 1-1 on fourth down. Florida’s 83 plays averaged 6.8 yards.
Kentucky, on the other hand, averaged just 3.1 yards per play, converted only 4-12 on third downs and couldn’t crack 100 yards either throwing (55) or running (94) the ball.
Jordan Sherit had 5 tackles and 2 sacks for the UF defense while Alex Anzalone had 7 tackles and a sack.
“We had a lot of guys who did their job today and they not only did their job but did it at a higher level,” McElwain, adding, “That’s the edge the Gators have to play to be successful going forward.”
Next up for the Gators is North Texas of Conference USA while Kentucky will be home against New Mexico State.
1. On third-and-1 from the UF 48, Mark Thompson was hit behind the line of scrimmage, but stuck his hand on the ground to keep his balance and surged forward for a 3-yard gain and a first down to keep Florida’s first scoring drive going.
2. On back-to-back plays on Florida’s first scoring drive, tight end C’yontai Lewis made the decisive block, springing Jordan Cronkrite for 16 yards and then Jordan Scarlett for 13. Florida scored on the drive when Mark Thompson powered in from 3 yards out.
3. Quincy Wilson picked off a Drew Barker pass just before the first quarter came to an end. Wilson played the UK receiver perfectly then tipped the ball to himself for the pick. On Florida’s first play after the turnover, Luke Del Rio and Antonio Callaway hooked up for a 78-yard scoring bomb to give the Gators a 14-0 lead.
4. DeAndre Goolsby got a foot down as he made a 9-yard reception on the sideline in the second quarter. Initially called incomplete, Goolsby made it abundantly clear that he got the foot down. On replay, it showed that Goolsby dragged the right foot in bounds for a completion.
5. Eddie Pineiro’s 53-yard field goal in the second quarter was a moonshot that would have been good from at least 65 yards.
6. Jalen Tabor perfectly read a Kentucky bubble screen, fought through the two forward blockers and made a diving interception in front of the UK receiver to give the Gators the football on their own 42. From there, the Gators moved the ball 13 plays for a TD, the score coming on a 5-yard pass from Del Rio to Brandon Powell.
7. A Marcus Maye interception – Florida’s third of the game – set up the first TD of the second half, a 26-yard pass from Del Rio to true freshman Freddie Swain, who was all alone at the UK 5.
8. Until backup QB Stephen Johnson broke containment when he was about to be sacked and found Jeff Badet wide open in the Florida secondary, the Wildcats had managed only 5 total yards in the second half. It was just the third completion of the game for UK.
9. Johnny Townsend only had to punt once and that was in the fourth quarter for 54 yards.
1. On Florida’s first possession of the second quarter, Del Rio had plenty of time to throw on a third-and-9 from the UF 20, but he held the ball a split second too long and threw high and wide to C.J. Worton. Worton managed to get a hand on the ball, but it tipped to Kentucky’s Derrick Baity who returned it 10 yards to the UF 25.
2. Following a 15-yard penalty by CeCe Jefferson for illegal hands to the face by CeCe Jefferson, the UF defense got caught flatfooted as Kentucky gained 24 yards on a reverse to wide receiver Jeff Badet.
3. The Gators were penalized 6 times for 75 yards, which is way too many.
4. It might seem like nitpicking, but Del Rio had at least five opportunities to pick up big gains in the passing game but he failed to see the underneath receiver.
1. On Florida’s opening drive of the game, the right side of the O-line broke down on first down from the UK 30 and Luke Del Rio was hit attempting to pass. Denzil Ware of Kentucky picked up the ball and ran for an apparent touchdown but instant replay showed Del Rio’s arm moving forward so the call was reversed.
2. Eddie Pineiro’s second miss of the game had everything to do with some confusion on special teams. Someone forgot to get into the game and by the time UF had 11 on the field, the kick was rushed and was a complete and total shank from 48 yards out.
3. Duke Dawson ripped the helmet off a Kentucky player during punt coverage in the fourth quarter. That’s the kind of undisciplined penalty that could be costly in a close game.
FLORIDA 7, KENTUCKY 0; 2:34
TD: Mark Thompson 3 run; XP: Eddie Pineiro kick
The drive: 15 plays, 84 yards; 7:29 time of possession
This was ground and pound as the Gators ran the ball 11 of the 15 plays, good for 62 yards. Once the Gators got the ball to the UK 40, it was five consecutive running plays with big plays from Jordan Cronkrite (16 yards) and Jordan Scarlett (13). Mark Thompson got the final two carries, going for 7 and then 3 for the TD.
FLORIDA 14, KENTUCKY 0; 0:37
TD: Luke Del Rio 78 pass to Antonio Callaway; XP: Eddie Pineiro kick
The drive: 1 play, 78 yards; 0:12 time of possession
Following a Quincy Wilson interception of a Drew Barker pass, the Gators caught the Kentucky defense flatfooted. Taking over at the UF 22, the Gators went with a play action fake on first down that froze the Kentucky defense. With plenty of time to throw, Luke Del Rio went deep Antonio Callaway who got behind Derrick Baity. Catching the ball at the UK 31, Callaway simply turned on the jets and ran untouched into the end zone with 37 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
FLORIDA 17, KENTUCKY 0; 5:57
FG: Eddie Pineiro 53
The drive: 8 plays, 44 yards, 3:06 time of possession
After Kentucky’s Austin MacGinnis boinked the left upright with a 34-yard field goal attempt, the Gators moved fairly easily into Kentucky territory but the drive stalled at the 36. That brought on Pineiro, who had missed just left on a 42-yarder in the first quarter. No such problems with this 53-yard bomb that split the uprights and would have been good from at least 12 yards farther back.
FLORIDA 24, KENTUCKY 0; 0:18
TD: Luke Del Rio 5 pass to Brandon Powell; XP: Eddie Pineiro kick
The drive: 13 plays, 58 yards; 4:13 time of possession
Following a Jalen Tabor interception of a Drew Barker pass, the Gators let Del Rio take them down the field for a touchdown, hitting 5-8 passes on the drive for 42 yards with the TD coming on a 4-yard pass to Brandon Powell after a nifty bunch route created a nice hole in the UK secondary.
1. The Gators had 363 total yards and 24 points in the season opener with UMass. UF matched the point total and had 324 yards at the half.
2. The Gators converted 10-13 on third down while the Florida defense held UK to 1-5.
3. The UF defense held Kentucky to 79 total yards, sacked the QB 3 times and forced two turnovers.
FLORIDA 31, KENTUCKY 0; 12:25
TD: Luke Del Rio 26 pass to Freddie Swain; XP: Eddie Pineiro kick
The drive: 3 plays, 45 yards; 1:21 time of possession
A Marcus Maye interception and runback gave the Gators their first possession of the second half starting at the UK 45. It took only three plays – a 1-yard run by Mark Thompson, an 18-yard Del Rio to Powell pass and a 26-yard pass from Del Rio to true freshman Freddie Swain – for the Gators to extend the lead to four scores.
FLORIDA 38, KENTUCKY 0; 3:40
TD: Jordan Scarlett 4 run; XP: Eddie Pineiro kick
The drive: 6 plays, 33 yards; 3:03 time of possession
The Florida defense forced its fourth turnover of the game, a fumble recovered by Taven Bryan at the UK 33. After a fourth down conversion, Del Rio and Callaway hooked up for 18 yards to the UK 4 and Jordan Scarlett followed by blasting off the left side for the TD.
FLORIDA 45, KENTUCKY 0; 14:19
TD: Luke Del Rio 26 pass to Lamical Perine; XP: Eddie Pineiro kick
The drive: 6 plays, 58 yards; 2:41 time of possession
Following another 3-and-out turned in by the UF defense, the Gators needed only six plays to score their sixth TD of the game, a 28-yard swing pass out of the backfield from Del Rio to true freshman Lamical Perine, who found a hold about the 15 and blew through it to score untouched.
KENTUCKY 7, FLORIDA 45; 4:27
TD: JoJo Kemp 2 run; XP: Austin MacGinnis
The drive: 9 plays, 80 yards; 4:45 time of possession
When Stephen Johnson turned a busted play into a 45-yard gainer on third-and-8 by finding Jeff Badet open deep in the Florida secondary, Kentucky finally got an offensive drive going. Up until that point, the Wildcats hadn’t converted a single first down in the second half. Kentucky came up with another first down and completed the drive when JoJo Kemp ran in from 2 yards on a direct snap.