The Look Test: For the first time in a long time, UK looked like a team that belonged on the same field with one of the SEC’s big-name programs. Maybe this wasn’t Steve Spurrier’s or Urban Meyer’s championship-caliber Gators, but they still have a roster comprised almost entirely of former four- and five-star prospects. The Cats look like they’ve closed the gap considerably in the speed column. That much was evident not only by UK’s big offensive plays (8 plays of 25-plus yards) but the fact that Florida had just two. Simple plays that used to net the Gators big yardage were being closed on fast by the new breed of UK defenders.
Towles’ Presence: The Cats’ sophomore quarterback was unfazed in his first significant SEC action in a hostile environment. Facing one of the better defenses in the country in one of the loudest stadiums in the nation, Patrick Towles completed 24 of 45 passes for a career-high 369 yards and three touchdowns. He was also picked off three times, but two of those were on tipped balls and another came as a result of a dropped pass by his receiver. The most impressive thing about his night, from my vantage point, was making big plays when they absolutely had to be made – clutch throws like his 22-yard strike to Garrett Johnson on 3rd-and-16 from his own 1 yard line with a minute to go and “The Swamp” sensing it was lights out for the Cats.
Quietly Emerging… All summer long, we heard great stories about how freshman wide receivers Dorian Baker, Blake Bone and T.V. Williams were going to be huge additions to the Air Raid corps, but fellow newcomer Garrett Johnson has emerged as perhaps the most dangerous playmaker of the bunch so far. His touchdown receptions of 60 and 33 yards in the third quarter left the Gator faithful with their jaws on the floor in stunned disbelief. He finished with six catches for 154 yards in one of the best UK receiver performances in The Swamp since Craig Yeast wore the blue and white.
Foster’s Right Leg: With the Kentucky offense managing only three points in the first half, junior punter Landon Foster may have been the halftime MVP for the Cats. He forced the Gators to start drives from their own 10, 13, 10, 7, 14 and 19 in the first half alone. You may not find a better punting performance all season from anyone in the country.
Speaking of Special Teams… Remember all of those questions about Austin MacGinnis after he missed three of his first five field goal attempts this season? Yeah. We hardly remember them, either. That’s what drilling a 51-yarder under extreme pressure in The Swamp will do for you. He’s got a 53- and a 51-yarder to his credit through his first three games. Betcha Florida, which missed two fourth quarter field goals, would like to negotiate a trade with the Cats.
Making Them Count: Senior defensive end Za'Darius Smith played maybe his best game as a Cat with a team-high 11 tackles, but I thought sophomore defensive end Jason Hatcher also stood out. Hatcher was credited with a nondescript four tackles, but it seemed like every one of them was a big deal. He finished with two tackles for losses and a sack. The former Louisville Trinity star had a fourth-quarter sack of Jeff Driskel that led to a Florida punt when the Gators had good field position and a chance to break the 20-20 tie. Playmakers like Hatcher have helped UK hold three straight opponents without a touchdown in the first half since the 1988 season.
Boom’s Walter Payton Moment: They call UK freshman tailback Stanley Williams “Boom,” but he looked more like “Sweetness” on his 25-yard run for a touchdown after a swing pass in the first overtime. Williams may have run close to 75 yards on the play, stretching it from one sideline all the way back to the other before diving for the pylon. Had it held up as the game-winning score, it may have gone down as arguably the greatest play in UK history.
Run Game Sputters: The Cats could have used more balance in this one. The ground game only produced 81 net yards on 33 carries, a paltry 2.5 average. Florida is outstanding against the run, but UK has too much talent in the backfield to be shut down to that extent. It’ll be a focus in practice the next two weeks. Bank on it.
Untimely Drops: The Cats hurt themselves severely with a few drops on the night. One on each side of the ball loomed large: Cornerback Fred Tiller had an easy interception (and a likely Pick-6) bounce off his chest and into the hands of a Gator receiver to set up a Florida touchdown in the third quarter. That was a potential 14-point swing. Later, in the final moments of regulation, receiver Ryan Timmons let a beautiful Towles strike near midfield bounce off his hands and into the Gator defense for an interception. Had Timmons pulled the ball down, UK may have only been a play or two away from setting up the game-winning field goal.
The Delay That Wasn’t A Delay: The Gators scored the game-tying touchdown on fourth down in the first overtime after the SEC officiating crew clearly missed a delay of game call against Florida. (We won't even get into the SEC's lame explanation for why the officials handled the play properly.) It doesn’t mean that play cost the Cats the game, as some have implied. They still had to stop another fourth-down attempt after the would-be penalty, but a 4th-and-12 play comes with much more added stress and pressure on an offense than a 4th-and-7. Who knows what would have happened if the yellow hanky had been dropped? It would have been nice to find out.
Next September… Big Blue Nation has to endure at least another week’s worth of questions about “the streak” as it has now reached an absurd 28 consecutive years.