What we learned: Florida can build on comeback win at Kentucky to extend streak

By Adam Silverstein
September 24, 2017
What we learned: Florida can build on comeback win at Kentucky to extend streak

Image Credit: @GatorsFB / Twitter

Have you caught your breath yet? For the second straight week, No. 20 Florida Gators football pulled off an exciting — though much less thrilling — last-second victory against a Southeastern Conference opponent. This time it was on the road in Lexington, Kentucky, against the Kentucky Wildcats, a game Florida entered boasting a 30-game series winning streak dating back to 1986. The Gators prevailed 28-27 by scoring 14 straight points in the fourth quarter to silence Kroger Field and send the Big Blue Nation home upset.

OnlyGators.com breaks down Florida’s win below.

It was over when: Kentucky kicker Austin MacGinnis missed a 57-yard field goal as time expired. MacGinnis previously bonked a 48-yard field goal attempt off the right upright and was 2-for-4 on the evening. Florida committed a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on a first-down play at the start of the game’s final series and also allowed the hosts to convert 15 yards on a 4th-and-11 attempt with the game on the line. However, a holding call on the Wildcats pushed them out of field goal range and ultimately won the game for the Gators as MacGinnis’ final try fell 5-plus yards short.

Exceptional efforts: Florida’s offensive line deserves a lot of credit for playing hard in the fourth quarter, and its effort paved the way for freshman running back Malik Davis to post an early-career night with team-highs of 21 carries for 93 yards. The line also kept a clean pocket in the second half for redshirt junior quarterback Luke Del Rio, who was not perfect with an early interception but threw a 5-yard go-ahead touchdown with less than a minute remaining. Del Rio recognized that sophomore wide receiver Freddie Swain was uncovered and quickly snapping the ball before UK head coach Mark Stoops could call a timeout, putting the Gators up one and completing a 14-point comeback.

Odds and ends: Florida extended its 31-game winning streak against Kentucky, the longest in the nation against an annual opponent … the Gators are now 51-17 all-time against the Wildcats and 29-4 in Lexington … it was the fourth time since 1993 that UK led UF in the fourth quarter and still lost (1993, 2003, 2014, 2017) … Florida improves to 17-1 against unranked opponents and 15-0 when outrushing an opponent under McElwain … the Gators scored their first rushing touchdown since Oct. 29, 2016, a ending a span of eight games without one

What it means: Kentucky is not at Florida’s level. That’s not meant as disrespect — not in the least — because the Wildcats certainly outcoached and outplayed the Gators through three-plus quarters on Saturday night. All it means is that Florida had bigger, badder hosses in the trenches — on both sides of the ball — and undeniable history on its side. Regardless, you have to give UF respect for converting on third and fourth down late, running out 5:48 of a 6:31 clock on its final drive and finding a way to win a game in which it had no business prevailing. Plus, the Gators gained 395 yards of offense on Saturday night, rushed for 186 yards (trippling the season-high the Wildcats had allowed to that point) and ran 63 plays in the game after only having nine in the first quarter.

By the quarter

First: Florida missed five tackles on an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown scoring drive for Kentucky with the Gators’ defense wholly unprepared for their attack. It marked the first time in a decade that UK led UF after the first quarter in their meeting.

Second: It did not take long for Florida to find an answer in the second quarter as freshman wide receiver Kadarius Toney took a direct snap 36 yards nearly untouched for a score to tie the game. It snapped an eight game streak of the Gators not scoring via rush dating back to Oct. 29, 2016. However, Kentucky soon responded with a 59-yard punt return and easy 9-yard fade for a touchdown over junior cornerback Duke Dawson to go up 14-7. Florida answered right back, however, with a 45-yard strike from redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks to sophomore wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland, who was uncovered and stretched the ball into the end zone. It was completed on 4th and 3, tying the game into halftime.

Third: The Gators immediately went three-and-out after the break, and the Wildcats took advantage with a nice punt return followed by a four-play, 62-yard TD drive in which their receivers were wide open on nearly every play. They followed with a field goal following a series in which Florida was shredded on defense only to hold inside the red zone with help from some Kentucky miscues. UF converted its first third down of the game with 49 seconds left in the third quarter after starting 0-for-6 on that down, though it replaced Franks with Del Rio, who immediately threw an interception.

Fourth: After Florida stalled at midfield on fourth down to open the quarter, Kentucky moved the ball 16 yards and connected on a 50-yard field goal to extend its lead to 13 at 27-14. The Gators responded immediately with a touchdown as Toney threw a reverse pass to Cleveland for a 50-yard gain and Florida rushed 29 of the remaining 30 yards on five carries until redshirt senior Brandon Powell found pay dirt. UF immediately forced a three-and-out, taking over with 6:31 remaining and somehow managing to use 5:48 of that time with a 13-play, 58-yard scoring drive. Del Rio hit Swain from 5 yards out for the wide-open touchdown to put the Gators ahead 28-27, and Florida held on for the win. UF rushed on eight of the 13 plays for 34 yards, and Del Rio went 5 of 6 for 52 yards on the drive.

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