It took longer than anyone wanted, but the Florida Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) eventually took down the Kentucky Wildcats (2-1, 0-1 SEC) in three overtimes on Saturday night at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. The Gators edged the Wildcats 36-30 on the backs of two offensive playmakers and a three-turnover night from their defense.
Head coach Will Muschamp spoke with the media after the hard-fought victory, which also included a number of standout statistics and historic marks.
HISTORY / STREAKS / STATS
» Florida improved to 48-17 all-time against Kentucky, extending its winning streak in the series to 28-straight games dating back to 1986. It is the longest active winning streak in the nation between teams that play annually.
» The Gators forced three turnovers on Saturday and are now +7 on the season.
» Florida is now 4-2 all-time in overtime games, 3-1 in The Swamp. The Gators have won four-straight overtime games with Saturday’s triple-overtime contest being the first-ever in school history.
» Kentucky held a second half lead against Florida for the first time since 2003.
» It is just the fourth time in UF history that the team had a 200-yard receiver and 100-yard rusher achieve their marks in the same game.
» The Gators have won 10-straight SEC openers dating back to 2004.
» Florida has amassed 1,187 yards of total offense and 101 points in two games. The Gators needed five games in 2013 to eclipse 101 points.
» Redshirt senior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar dropped a couple but hauled in two balls Saturday and has now caught a pass in 30-straight games, extending his school record.
» Sophomore Demarcus Robinson matched Carlos Alvarez (1969) for most receptions by a Florida wideout in a single game with 15. The mark is also sixth-most in a single game in SEC history.
» Robinson’s 216 receiving yards vaulted him to fourth on the Gators all-time list for most in a single game. He is behind only Taylor Jacobs (246 yards, 2002), Carlos Alvarez (237 yards, 1969) and Travis McGriff (222 yards, 1998)
» Robinson has amassed 339 yards and three touchdowns in two games this season. Only one Florida receiver had more than three touchdowns in all of 2013 (Solomon Patton, six) and only three had more yards in all of 2013 (Patton, Dunbar, Trey Burton).
» Robinson is the first UF player since Jabar Gaffney (twice, 2001) to post consecutive games with 100+ receiving yards.
» Sophomore safety Keanu Neal intercepted two passes on Saturday, becoming the first Gators player since Ahmad Black (2011) to do so in one game.
» Junior running back Matt Jones rushed a career-high 29 times for 156 yards with a touchdown. It was the second 100+ (and 150+) yard game of his career.
» Senior tight end Tevin Westbrook scored his first career touchdown.
» Redshirt junior quarterback Jeff Driskel threw for a career-high 295 yards. His three passing touchdowns were the second-most in his career (four, South Carolina, 2011).
For all the criticisms thrown the way of Driskel for overthrowing a few passes, Florida’s receivers for dropping a couple balls or the Gators’ kickers for missing important field goals, the most egregious issues for Florida on Saturday came from its secondary.
The Gators did ultimately grab three interceptions, but Florida dropped a number of others and either blew coverage or simply got beaten down the field time and time again. That’s how Kentucky signal caller Patrick Towles racked up 369 yards and three touchdowns with WR Garrett Johnson hauling in six balls for 154 yards and two of those scores.
“Defensively we just, uh, you know, uh, we got to cover better. Bottom line. That’s my responsibility, and we’ll improve on it,” explained Muschamp.
“We just got to tie some things up in the secondary. They had six big plays for 173 yards. When you play a team that’s going to be willing to throw the ball vertically that much, there’s going to be some 50-50 balls. We need to play the ball better in some situations. We didn’t and that was very frustrating.”
The Wildcats converted 37.5 percent of their third down attempts but that statistic does not tell the entire story. UK started 0-for-7 on third down in the game but figured out that UF was playing soft coverage on third down and took advantage of it to convert 6-of-7 in the middle of the contest including a big 3rd and 15 from its own one-yard line.
“We’re just soft in coverage in third down. That’s really stupid. And that’s on me. We’ll get it corrected,” Muschamp admitted.
Neal added: “Communication, just a lack of communication on the deep end. You know, the safety has to communicate everything to the defensive backs. That’s on me. That’s on Jabari [Gorman]. We just have to communicate to each other as well as the cornerbacks and the nickels.”
Gorman was especially susceptible to being beat on Saturday, giving up three big plays and two touchdowns on the evening. Florida also gave up a completely wide open touchdown pass due to a miscommunication.
For as much as Wildcats supporters will complain about the Gators being allowed to get off their 4th and 7 play in overtime with the play clock seemingly having run out, it was one of few calls (or non-calls, in that instance) that went Florida’s way on Saturday.
UF was called for a questionable pass interference penalty on UK’s first series of the game and picked up three flags in the first four total drives. A second, more questionable pass interference was called on the Gators on an underthrown pass at the start of the fourth quarter, though Florida certainly deserved a face mask called on senior defensive tackle Darious Cummings in overtime.
Worse though, at least as far as Florida was concerned, was what the officials did not call. The most egregious was an obvious late hit on sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor, who slipped on a run and fell to the ground only to be speared with the crown of a player’s helmet a couple seconds after he was already down. It was not only a late hit but also an uncalled targeting penalty.
“Kelvin’s back was really sore from when he got speared on our sideline,” quipped Muschamp.
Added Jones, who ran more intensely after the play: “It really made me mad that they took a cheap shot at my boy. I was saying, ‘I hope he gets up.’ He got up and we did what we had to do.”
SOMETHING TO BUILD ON
Despite some of the Gators’ struggles and the sheer fear from the fan base that Florida might see another dominant winning streak come to an end, UF pulled out the victory on Saturday in a game that it surely would have lost one year ago.
The Gators scored 33 of their 36 points in the second half and overtime, answered touchdowns and field goals with scores of their own and fought hard until the final whistle.
“The positive of it? It’s a very adverse game. There’s going to be games like that when you play in our conference and you got to find ways to win those games, and our guys found a way to win the game,” Muschamp said. “That’s a huge positive. To show some resiliency and fighting through adversity and all the positives in that.”
Muschamp would normally be visibly frustrated after a close win like that, especially early in his career at Florida. On Saturday, he appeared to have a level mindset and even cracked a joke at the tail end of his press conference.
“I just think we got a lot to work on. I don’t really feel relief after games. I look at it from a technical standpoint of we got to clean some things up on the back end. Our guys fought. It wasn’t always pretty at times,” he said.
“More than anything, we missed some football with the Idaho game, figured we’d give y’all a little extra shot to watch some ball. It’s paying the fans back, you know?”
NOTES AND QUOTES
» Muschamp on the game as a whole: “Credit to our fans. It was a great environment, and we certainly made it interesting.”
» Muschamp said freshman wide receiver C.J. Worton broke his hand in practice and will miss at least 2-3 weeks while he wears a cast.
» Junior WR Latroy Pittman made a touchdown-saving tackle on Driskel’s interception.
» An untimely false start forced the officials to negate a made 46-yard field goal by Kentucky late in the fourth quarter. The Wildcats, however, ended up banking in the ensuing 51-yard attempt.
HONORARY MR. TWO-BITS
WWE superstar Titus O’Neil, better known by some Florida fans as former defensive end Thaddeus Bullard, filled in as the honorary Mr. Two-Bits before Saturday’s game. It was a strong effort from O’Neil, who chose to rip his shirt off at the tail end of the performance. O’Neil has recently begun to go by the nickname “Gator” in WWE.