Florida Gators football improved to 3-0 on Saturday with a hard-fought 14-9 win over the Kentucky Wildcats, escaping Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Kentucky, with a victory in a contest that looked shaky at times for the visitors.
The Gators have now won 29 consecutive games against the Wildcats (1987-present) and still hold the longest active streak against an annual opponent in the nation.
OnlyGators.com is here to break down the game, so here are seven takeaways.
Starter named? Redshirt freshman Will Grier played the entire game at quarterback for Florida. Though his stat line was not incredibly impressive (13 of 22, 125 yards, interception; 61 rushing yards, touchdown), Grier was effective with his legs and avoided the crucial mistake … for most of the game. An interception thrown into the end zone was costly and resulted in a swing of 6-10 points for the Gators, as the defense allowed the Wildcats to drive back down the field following the turnover. Florida’s offense helped Grier out in the first half, but in the latter 30 minutes, his teammates dropped passes and the offensive line could not hold Kentucky’s rush long enough to give Grier enough time to throw. Furthermore, Grier appeared to injure his right side, which appeared to affect his throwing ability, though he did remain in the game.
In the end, UF’s offensive numbers were simply dreadful: 245 total yards (125 passing), 2 of 11 on third downs, 2 of 4 in the red zone – though that is not all the fault of Grier.
Bent but didn’t break: The Gators’ defense, both its front seven (missed tackles) and secondary (blown coverage), were tested throughout the night and spent nearly the entire second half on the field. While Florida did not give up a touchdown and held in the red zone on multiple occasions, it was far from the top-tier defense that was expected when the season began. Junior cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III had a clutch first-half 53-yard interception (that he almost returned for a touchdown), and redshirt sophomore CB Quincy Wilson ended the contest with another pick on a last-ditch 4th and 27 for Kentucky.
What a rush: Junior defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard was tremendous on Saturday, picking up two clutch sacks (for a total loss of 21 yards), including one on the final series of the game that basically put the ball in the Gators’ court to close things out. Redshirt sophomore linebacker Alex McCalister (two sacks, 14-yard loss) and freshman defensive end CeCe Jefferson (half sack) also stood out with top-notch play on the evening. UF finished with six sacks and 10 tackles for loss in Lexington. Junior linebacker Jarrad Davis (10 tackles) and junior safety Keanu Neal (nine tackles) each stepped up with 1.5 takedowns for lost yardage; Neal added a sack.
They can catch: McElwain criticized Florida’s wide receivers throughout fall camp, but the players did their best to make him look foolish early on Saturday as freshman Antonio Callaway and junior Ahmad Fulwood made some spectacular grabs that continued drives and put the Gators in position to score. Callaway’s one-handed 34-yard haul helped Florida flip the field and gave it an opportunity to put points on the board, while Fulwood’s diving grab extended a drive. (Callaway also had an impressive 37-yard punt return and nine-yard reverse run on the evening.) The one UF wideout who failed live up to his reputation? Sophomore Brandon Powell, who dropped an easy pass and forgot to turn around on another important throw late in the game. Gators’ receivers barely even contributed in the second half after playing so well in the first, however.
Welcome, Jake McGee: An injury derailed his transfer season and coverage dictated that McGee did not get many opportunities through the first two weeks, but the redshirt senior had a tremendous first half for the Gators on Saturday with three diving grabs for 30 yards. His second turned a 3rd and 8 (caused by a delay of game penalty, more on that later) into a 4th and 1 (which Florida converted), and his second was part of a 10-play, 57-yard touchdown scoring drive to end the first half and put UF up 14-3 at the break.
Don’t worry; be happy: Though junior Kelvin Taylor did not start at running back for the Gators – that honor belonged to freshman Jordan Cronkrite – he did get the vast majority of the carries (16) and totaled 45 yards on the evening. McElwain made a concerted effort to run Taylor, allowing him to carry the ball on four straight plays during Florida’s initial scoring drive, though he was off the field as Grier rumbled in for the one-yard touchdown. Taylor would score later, though. Cronkrite finished with 12 yards on six carries, and fellow freshman Jordan Scarlett did not even see the field.
More mistakes and miscues: There are actually too many to name, but let’s try. (1) Powell ran a kickoff out of the end zone when told not to, and (2) a block in the back penalty resulted in the Gators starting a drive at their own five. (3) Taylor ran backwards inside the five and was tackled at Florida’s one. (4) UF moved down to UK’s 15-yard line and false started; on the same drive, the Gators (5) committed a delay of game on a made field goal and ended up getting their (6) second attempt blocked. (7) A 12-men-on-the-field penalty turned a 3rd and 3 into a 3rd and 8, which forced Florida into a situation where it needed to convert a fourth down.
Senior WR Latroy Pittman Jr., playing his first game back from suspension, (8) committed a running into the punter penalty (but did his best to remedy the situation). (9) Freshman offensive lineman Fredrick Johnson false started on 3rd and long, making a conversion even more difficult and pushing UF out of field goal range. (10) Grier threw an interception (11) in the end zone (12) on first down; the Wildcats responded with a long drive – aided by UF (13) allowing a 33-yard scramble to QB Patrick Towles and (14) committing a 15-yard personal foul penalty on the play – but were held to a field goal. Redshirt sophomore punter Johnny Townsend struggled with his punting all night, but after hitting a deep one, saw Florida (15) called for illegal formation with less than nine minutes to play and a five-point lead.