Date story was published: Sunday, September 23, 2001
For the first time in a long time, Kentucky's players looked up at the scoreboard in the second half and found themselves in a game with Florida.
But all that turned out to be was a delay of the inevitable. In the end, yesterday's Florida-UK game was like most of the rest: The Gators were way, way out in front.
After struggling for most of three quarters, Florida Coach Steve Spurrier's offense ran off the final 21 points and beat UK 44-10 in front of 66,126 fans at Commonwealth Stadium. It was the Gators' 15th straight win over UK.
UK Coach Guy Morriss said his Cats would need some breaks to stay close to Florida, and they got one early when Gators quarterback Rex Grossman fumbled the snap on the fifth play of the game. UK defensive end Dennis Johnson recovered, setting the Cats up at the Gators' 33-yard line.
But Kentucky failed to capitalize. Its three ensuing plays netted 1 yard, and kicker Stephen Scaldaferri was wide on a 51-yard field-goal attempt.
"It's momentum we didn't gather at that point," Morriss said. "If we could have gone on and put it in the end zone, certainly it would have helped us and got our confidence going."
That sequence set the tone for the rest of the game. The Cats never could make the big plays they needed.
After Grossman's 29-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney gave Florida a 7-0 lead, UK drove to the Gators' 31 only to see Artose Pinner get stuffed on a fourth-and-1 run.
UK moved into Florida territory four times in the first half but only had three points to show for it -- a 41-yard, line-drive field goal from Scaldaferri that brought Kentucky to within 7-3 early in the second quarter.
Spurrier said his team was aided by Kentucky's lack of big-play ability.
"Kentucky probably doesn't have the speed receiver like most teams we'll face this year," Spurrier said. "Their kids played hard and moved the ball at times, but we were able to keep them out of the end zone most of the day."
And if you're a Kentucky team looking to hang in there with the No. 2 team in the country, you need a couple of breaks to survive. And it didn't seem like the Cats got many yesterday.
With the score 7-3 early in the second quarter, safety Anthony Wajda made a leaping interception of Grossman's pass to Gaffney in the end zone. While the Wildcats' defense celebrated, a penalty flag came from the corner of the end zone.
Cornerback Jeremy Bowie was whistled for pass interference, giving Florida a first-and-goal at the 3 and igniting boos from the crowd that lasted nearly all the game. Two plays later Grossman hit Taylor Jacobs from 6 yards out to make it 13-3 with 9:48 left in the second quarter.
Bowie said he didn't think he interfered with Gaffney.
"I'm jumping for the ball, and we just kind of got tangled up," Bowie said. "But if I'm going for the ball, it's just as much mine as it is his."
UK then put together another decent drive, getting to the Florida 39-yard line four minutes before halftime. But on fourth-and-1, Florida cornerback Lito Sheppard dropped Derek Abney for a 2-yard loss on a wide receiver screen.
Florida tacked on a Jeff Chandler 39-yard field goal at the second-quarter horn to take a 16-3 lead.
Still, considering the Gators averaged 55 points in the previous seven meetings between the teams, UK had to feel OK going into halftime.
Defensive coordinator John Goodner did, anyway.
"At halftime our guys thought they could play with them," Goodner said. "When I left the dressing room (to come out for the second half), I felt like we'd be in the game in the fourth quarter."
They didn't quite make it that far. The Gators were still holding on to their 16-3 lead when Robert Gillespie was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1 from the UK 29.
But once again, a flag negated the defensive stand. The Cats were penalized five yards for lining up in the neutral zone. The crowd booed louder. Three plays later, Gaffney scored his second TD on a 4-yard toss from Grossman.
Instead of having the ball with a chance to close to within a touchdown, Kentucky stared at a 23-3 deficit with 3:27 left in the third.
"I thought that was the difference in the ball game," Goodner said. "We hold them, our kids are jumping up and down on the sidelines, you've got a lot of emotion going, the offense is about ready to go on the field, and there's a flag."
Looking at a three-touchdown deficit, Goodner had a choice to make.
"You either say, 'OK, we're going to come after them, hang our guys out a little bit, try to make some things happen, try to get back in the ball game,' or you're going to say, 'Let's go home and keep it respectable.'
"And I think our kids wanted to make something happen, so I went after it a little bit, and I hung some guys out."
And Florida made them pay.
Earnest Graham took a toss to the left side and broke through a pair of arm tackles for a 50-yard touchdown run to put Florida up 30-10 at the end of the third quarter. In the fourth quarter, Gillespie turned a short pass from Grossman into a 52-yard scoring play to make it 37-10, and backup quarterback Brock Berlin's 64-yard pass to Reche Caldwell closed the scoring.
"Some of the things that happened to us defensively, we just got out-athleted on," Morriss said. "On that long run, (Gillespie) ran away from people."
As for the UK offense, it again struggled to score. The Cats' only touchdown came on Shane Boyd's 2-yard pass to Chase Harp that made it 23-10 in the third quarter.
"These days we're pretty excited about scoring any time," Morriss said. "There were times when we moved the football, and you'd think we're fixing to get it rolling here. But we'd shoot ourselves in the foot."
Boyd finished 23-for-39 passing for 203 yards and a touchdown and also ran for 40 yards on seven carries. But Morriss said the rest of the offense needs to step up and do its part.
"I think the 10 people around him have got to step it up," Morriss said. "I just don't think we're being fair to Shane to put him in that position to where he's got to carry this whole offense right now, and for some reason that seems to be what the 10 other people on offense are doing to him."