LEXINGTON, Ky. --- As Steve Spurrier exchanged pleasantries with Guy Morriss during Saturday's customary postgame handshake, the Florida coach told his new Kentucky counterpart, "Looks like you've found some defense."
Perhaps a more fitting comment would have been, "Where'd your offense go?"
Kentucky's once-feared offensive attack, one which accounted for 31 points and more than 500 total yards last year in The Swamp, continued its tranformation to the "Err Raid" in a 44-10 loss to the second-ranked Gators at Commonwealth Stadium.
The Wildcats (1-2 overall; 0-1 SEC) had a modest 288 total yards, managed only 11 first downs and punted eight times on the day. They were particularly woeful in third-down situations, converting only 1 of 14 attempts, many of which came deep in Florida territory. Kentucky scored on only two of five trips inside the Gators' 35-yard line.
"Offensively, we're just not executing," Morriss said. "I think some of it's freshman mistakes from the guy calling the signals (quarterback Shane Boyd), although I thought he played pretty good. He's got some things he's got to grow and improve on, but the 10 people around him have to step it up. I don't think we're being fair to Shane to put him in the position where he's got to carry the whole offense. For some reason, that's what the 10 other people seem to be doing to him right now."
Frustration was evident among some of the Cats' veteran players in postgame interviews.
The defense played well enough to keep us in this game, said junior tight end Derek Smith, who had only two receptions for six yards and had a pair of glaring dropped passes on the day. Im not sure whether were just not working hard enough or not calling the right plays at the right times or what. Maybe the scheme doesnt fit the players we have. But whatever it is, were just not scoring.
"It's hard to explain. It's just not clicking," said sophomore wide receiver Derek Abney, who had five catches for 54 yards. "It's very frustrating, especially when you know what you're capable of doing."
The side effect was leaving a hearty, but thin UK defense on the field for far too many plays, especially in the second half. The Cats trailed only 16-3 at halftime and 23-10 late in the third quarter before the levy broke.
"We left our defense out there again," Abney said. "They gave us everything they had, but we didn't do our job. You can't keep going three-and-out and expect your defense to hold up all day against a team like Florida."
"We didn't get any turnovers, but we got a lot of opportunities thanks to our defense," Spurrier said. "It ended up being crucial. If (Kentucky) could have stayed on the field and made any first downs, it could have been a game.
"Give them credit. They had good defense on us. They really did."
Beginning with Ernest Graham's 50-yard touchdown run to close the third quarter, Florida amassed 256 of its 565 yards in the final 15:28. That span also included a 52-yard touchdown pass from Rex Grossman to Robert Gillespie and a 64-yard TD strike from backup Brock Berlin to Reche Caldwell against a drained UK defense.
Grossman finished the day 22 of 36 for 302 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Caldwell caught five passes for 105 yards. Jabar Gaffney added six catches for 80 yards and two scores.
Florida's ground game produced 168 yards, led by Graham's 86 yards on 11 carries.
The final statistics belied what had been a surprisingly competitive game through most of the first three quarters.
Entering the game as a 31-point favorite, Florida fumbled on its first possession of the day and managed only a 29-yard touchdown pass from Grossman to Gaffney in the opening period. Kentucky responded with a 41-yard, line-drive field goal by backup kicker Stephen Scaldaferri --- who was substituting for an injured Seth Hanson (hip flexor) --- to make it 7-3 at the 14:38 mark of the second quarter.
Florida added to the lead on its next possession, but not without help from the first of several controversial officiating calls on the day. A pass interference call against UK on a well-overthrown ball gave the Gators a first-and-10 at the Cats' 38-yard line. Eight plays later, on third-and-five at the UK 7, Anthony Wajda intercepted Grossman's pass in the end zone, but another defender close to the play was flagged for holding despite replays which showed otherwise.
The Gators took advantage of the breaks as Grossman connected with Taylor Jacobs on a 6-yard touchdown pass, met with an ongoing chorus of boos aimed at the officiating crew from most of the 66,126 in attendance. A bad snap on the PAT left the score at 13-3 with 9:48 left in the second quarter.
"Officiating... that's a tough job," said Morriss, clearly being cautious not to say something which would merit disciplinary action from the league. "Those guys, I guess, do the best they can."
Florida added a 39-yard field goal by Jeff Chandler as time expired in the first half to take a 13-point lead into the lockerroom.
Kentucky found itself snakebit by another mistake in the third quarter after seemingly stuffing the Gators on fourth-and-inches at the UK 29. But the Cats were called for lining up offside, and Florida scored three plays later on a 5-yard passs from Grossman to Gaffney to make it 23-3.
"We were a little bit fortunate," Spurrier said.
The Cats responded with their first touchdown --- a 2-yard pass from Boyd to tight end Chase Harp set up by a Florida fumbled punt --- but the Gators came right back with Graham's long touchdown run to break the game open.
"We kind of lost our focus late in the third quarter," UK cornerback Derrick Tatum said. "Our defense is getting better, it's just not good enough."
"They're a really fine football team. They're really talented," Morriss said. "...And I think that they forced us into making some mistakes. When you play those kind of teams, every little thing magnifies, and it kind of starts snowballing against you. To some extent, I think that's what happened today."
Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC) recorded its 15th straight victory over the Cats and won its conference opener for the 11th time in 12 years.