The Gators, who have been running and gunning past the Wildcats for most of a historic SEC winning streak over UK, claimed their 29th straight in the series in a defensive struggle Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
A relentless pass rush helped Florida hold Kentucky to an 8-for-24 passing night with two interceptions and six sacks in a 14-9 victory for the Gators. The Cats managed only three Austin MacGinnis field goals as Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC) made a pair of short first-half rushing touchdowns hold up.
"Heckuva road win against a team that's going to win a lot of games in this league and is getting better and better," Florida coach Jim McElwain said. "The defense obviously stepped up and played really good."
For the second year in a row, UK head coach Mark Stoops saw his team suffer a nail-biting loss to the Gators. Last season, it was a 36-30 triple-overtime defeat in Gainesville.
“Very disappointing loss,” he said. “We just didn’t play a clean enough game. We talked about it all week. We just needed to play a good, clean football game, and play to our capabilities the best we could, and we didn’t do that tonight. Give Florida a lot of credit because they had a lot to do with that. They played very good, very disruptive defensively.”
Kentucky (2-1, 1-1 SEC) also had a strong defensive showing, holding the Gators to only 245 total yards and limiting them to just 2-for-11 on third-down situtaions. Florida entered the game averaging 46 points and 490 yards in its first two games of the season.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Will Grier gave Florida just enough offense, passing for 125 yards and rushing for 61, including a 1-yard touchdown on a fourth-down gamble in the first quarter. Junior running back Kelvin Taylor added a 3-yard touchdown run for the Gators with 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
The Cats were led by sophomore running back Stanley "Boom" Williams, who had 16 carries for 80 yards against a Gators defense that had allowed only 51 yards rushing combined to its first two opponents.
Kentucky's last win over Florida came on November 15, 1986, a 10-3 triumph at Commonwealth Stadium in a similar defensive struggle.
In this AllWildcats Rapid Recap feature, we touch on the highlights of the UK loss...
WHAT WENT WRONG:
The Cats ultimately could not give Towles time to look downfield in the passing game, so the offensive attack was one-dimensional. When he did have time, he was not particularly accurate. When he was accurate, he was plagued by drops from his receivers. It was that kind of night for the UK offense, but the one constant was extreme pressure from Florida's defensive line. Stoops said UK could not simulate the dominant four-man pass rush and blanket coverage that the Gators executed during the week of practice leading up to the game.
Kentucky appeared to have everything in place for the kind of start it needed. The defense forced a 3-and-out by the Gators on the first series of the game, and UK took over with great field position at its own 43. The Cats quickly moved to the Florida 41, where Towles unleashed a deep ball to receiver Dorian Baker down the sideline. The pass was well-defended by All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, but ultimately hit Baker in the hands before falling harmlessly to the turf. Two plays later, Hargreaves picked off Towles and returned it 53 yards to the UK 19 to set up Florida’s first score of the night.
Florida senior defensive end Jonathan Bullard was a pass-rushing dynamo, recording five tackles and two sacks to lead the Gators.
STAT OF THE DAY:
The Gators recorded 10 negative-yardage plays against the UK offense for 58 yards in losses.
BY THE NUMBERS:
- 2.8 - Average yards per rush by UK after sack yardage was factored.
- 4th - Career interception for UK junior cornerback J.D. Harmon, a big play in the end zone to deny Florida points.
- 8 - Completions by UK, its lowest figure in a game since recording seven in a 2013 loss to No. 1 Alabama.
- 8-8 - Stoops' record at Commonwealth Stadium.
- 20 - Consecutive red-zone scores converted by the Cats dating back to last season.
- 245 - The lowest yards allowed by UK against Florida since its last win over the Gators in 1986. The Cats gave up 241 yards on that day.
"This game is easily-winnable if we just do an average job, offensively... Everybody could have done better, including myself. I'm the main one." -- UK offensive cooridnator Shannon Dawson.
Kentucky returns to action next week against Missouri in a 7:30 p.m. ET kickoff at Commonwealth Stadium. The Tigers (3-0, 0-0 SEC) defeated UConn 9-6 on Saturday in Columbia, Mo.