It took the No. 15 Florida Gators a few drives to get their offense rolling, but after they did it was off to the races at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, KY on Saturday evening as Florida (4-0, 2-0 SEC) dismantled the Kentucky Wildcats (2-2, 0-1 SEC) 48-10.
The Gators extended their winning streak against the Wildcats to 25 games by attacking their opponent on the ground, rushing for the sixth-most yards in school history (405) and most as a team since 1989. Senior running back Jeff Demps set a career-high with 157 yards on 10 carries and also scored twice, while redshirt senior RB Chris Rainey carried it 15 times for 106 yards and had the evening’s most awe-inspiring play.
After consecutive three-and-outs to start the game, the Gators got on the board rather quickly. On the Wildcats’ second possession of the game, running back Josh Clemons fumbled the ball. It was recovered by redshirt junior defensive tackle Omar Hunter, and Florida took over at Kentucky’s 45-yard-line. On the very next play, redshirt senior quarterback John Brantley threw a strike down the middle of the field to redshirt freshman tight end Gerald Christian for an early touchdown.
With the ball back in their hands, the Gators again took advantage of great field position. Brantley hit redshirt junior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. for 20 yards, and Demps – thanks in part to a great block Rainey – took Florida the rest of the way with a 20-yard stretch run for a touchdown.
The Wildcats’ miscues continued as, on third-and-10 at their own 29, QB Morgan Newton was picked off by Gators sophomore safety Matt Elam, who returned it 18 yards to Kentucky’s 28-yard-line, setting up another short field.
One play later, Rainey took a handoff to the left, stopped, reversed field and ran it 27 yards to UK’s one after being spurred by blocks from redshirt junior right guard Jon Halapio, redshirt freshman WR Quinton Dunbar and redshirt senior WR Deonte Thompson. Florida sophomore RB Trey Burton scored on a touchdown run from one yard out, his seventh against Kentucky in his two-year career.
Following a Florida punt, Kentucky took over at their own seven. On second down, a sack by junior linebacker Jon Bostic forced the ball to pop out of Newton’s hand and into those of redshirt senior DT Jaye Howard, who ran it two yards into the end zone for another Gators touchdown, their first defensive score of the season.
After another Wildcats punt, UF decided to keep the ball on the ground, running it on nine-of-11 plays on their next drive to set-up a 46-yard field goal attempt, which redshirt junior kicker Caleb Sturgis converted after clanging the ball off the uprights. Brantley got injured on the last play of the drive and headed to the locker room, resulting in freshman QB Jeff Driskel taking over for Florida’s next possession.
Driskel was hit as he threw incomplete on first down before being sacked and fumbling the ball on second down. Kentucky took advantage of the short field, scoring two plays later when Newton threw it to WR La’Rod King for a 19-yard touchdown.
With the first half winding down, Driskel again returned to the huddle and again turned the ball over. After Rainey ran the ball three times for 34 yards, Driskel threw to Hammond, who caught it on the goal line; unfortunately, the ball popped out of Hammond’s hands and into those of LB Avery Williamson to end the half.
Forcing the Wildcats to punt on the opening possession of the second half, the Gators found themselves backed up at the one-yard-line. Three consecutive rushes resulted in a Florida first down, and two plays later Demps hit a big hole on the left side and exploded for an 84-yard touchdown run to put UF ahead 38-10.
The Gators gained possession again when redshirt freshman LB Michael Taylor Taylor intercepted Newton at Florida’s 25 and returned it 30 yards across midfield to Kentucky’s 45. After stalling in the red zone, Sturgis connected on a 27-yard field goal for UF, giving his team a 31-point lead with 3:10 remaining in the third quarter. He remains perfect on the season with 11 field goals and 18 extra points.
With 11:40 left in the game, Florida junior RB Mike Gillislee took consecutive carries, fumbling the second one after bumping into the referee. Kentucky was unable to capitalize, however, and Gillislee got redemption on the Gators’ next drive, replicating Rainey’s run from earlier by rushing to the right, changing direction and taking off on a career-long 60-yard run down the field for a touchdown.
Demps’s 84-yard run was the sixth-longest in school history and the longest since Emmitt Smith’s 96-yard score in 1988. Florida now has four-straight games with a 100-yard rusher, the most since they had five-in-a-row in 1999. Additionally, the Gators had two players (Demps, Rainey) each run for at least 100 yards in the same game for the first time since Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin did so in the 2009 BCS Championship.
Florida has now scored 40 or more points against Kentucky 15 times during their 25-game winning streak dating back to 1986.
Brantley, who was in-and-out of the game after being hurt, finished 8/15 for 114 yards and a touchdown, his lowest total output of the season. Christian and Hammond were the only Gators to catch more than one pass, totaling five receptions for 98 yards including Christian’s first-quarter score.
Florida returns to the friendly confines of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium next Saturday for a showdown with No. 2 Alabama (4-0, 1-0 SEC). The game will air live on CBS at 8 p.m. UF has not defeated UA since 2008, falling in consecutive contests – the 2009 SEC Championship and during the 2010 regular season.
Photo Credit: Ed Reinke/Associated Press