Redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy looked like a seasoned, experienced signal caller in his first career start, leading the No. 19/20 Florida Gators (3-1, 2-0 SEC) to a 24-7 victory over the Kentucky Wildcats (1-3, 0-1 SEC) on the road at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY, on Saturday evening.
Murphy ended the first half 11-of-11 for 120 yards and a touchdown, adding another score and 20 rushing yards on four carries, and gave the Gators a 21-7 edge at halftime. He threw an interception in the second half but was supported by a strong effort from UF’s dominant defense and sophomore running back Matt Jones, who took a career-high 28 carries for a career-high 176 yards and a touchdown.
Florida won its 27th consecutive game against Kentucky dating back to 1986, extending the nation’s longest active winning streak against an annual opponent. The Gators are also 33-1 against the Wildcats since 1980 and have outscored their SEC East rivals 262-43 over the last seven games.
Florida opened up with its longest scoring drive of the season, gaining 93 yards on 13 plays in 7:47 and capping it off with a touchdown when Jones carried the ball into the end zone on 3rd-and-Goal.
Kentucky answered in kind, moving the ball 50 yards in 12 plays before being faced with 4th-and-9 at UF’s 25-yard line. UK lined up for the field goal but faked it with kicker Joe Mansour taking an over-the-head toss from the holder 25 yards to tie the game at 7-7.
Murphy escaped a rush to complete a 29-yard pass to Gators redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, and Florida soon moved to six yards outside the red zone early in the second quarter. Unfortunately for UF, an illegal formation penalty and sack of Murphy combined for a 10-yard loss, and possession was given up after redshirt freshman Austin Hardin missed a 53-yard field goal attempt.
A three-and-out forced by the Gators’ defense got Florida the ball back at its own 21, and it was quick to strike. Jones took the drive’s first carry 67 yards down to the Wildcats’ 12-yard line before Dunbar, trying to throw a block, tackled him from behind. Two plays later, Murphy found senior WR Trey Burton in the back of the end zone with a nine-yard strike that put the visitors ahead 14-7 with 9:40 left in the first half.
UF added to its lead as Murphy and Burton hooked up three more times on the next drive for a total of 27 yards. Faced with 3rd-and-4 at Kentucky’s five, Florida jumped ahead 21-7 on a five-yard keeper by Murphy.
The Gators’ offense was back at it at the start of the second half, moving 46 yards in 12 plays and eating up 7:22 of game clock. Faced with 3rd-and-4 at the Wildcats’ 23-yard line, Murphy threw the first interception of the career and hustled down field to make the tackle after a 38-yard return. He was a flawless 13-of-13 before the miscue.
Florida’s defense came through, however, and got the ball back for the offense as freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III registered his third career interception in four career games, picking off Kentucky QB Maxwell Smith in the end zone on 2nd-and-21 from the 33.
Travelling 64 yards on 15 plays, the Gators ate up 7:38 but finished the drive with a 33-yard field goal converted by Hardin to jump ahead 24-7 with 10:49 to play.
UF’s defense held from there with sophomore BUCK linebacker Dante Fowler, Jr. registering two sacks on UK’s final drive.
Florida outgained Kentucky 402-173 in total offense and 246-48 on the ground, out-possessing its host 38:09-21:51 on the evening.
The Gators converted 8-of-13 third downs and 2-of-2 fourth downs while holding the Wildcats to 1-of-8 and 2-of-4, respectively.
Murphy finished 15-for-18 for 156 yards with a touchdown and interception and also took seven carries for 36 yards and another score.
Burton registered a career-high six catches on the evening.
Florida will now regroup as it returns to Gainesville, FL, to host Arkansas next Saturday. The game time and network affiliation will be announced on Sunday.
Photo Credit: James Crisp/Associated Press