Date story was published: Sunday, September 23, 2001
For the first time in a long time, Kentucky's players looked up at thescoreboard 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'soffense ran off the final 21 points and beat UK 44-10 in front of 66,126 fansat 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 toFlorida, and they got one early when Gators quarterback Rex Grossman fumbledthe snap on the fifth play of the game. UK defensive end Dennis Johnsonrecovered, 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 couldhave gone on and put it in the end zone, certainly it would have helped us andgot our confidence going."
That sequence set the tone for the rest of the game. The Cats never couldmake the big plays they needed.
After Grossman's 29-yard touchdown pass to Jabar Gaffney gave Florida a 7-0lead, UK drove to the Gators' 31 only to see Artose Pinner get stuffed on afourth-and-1 run.
UK moved into Florida territory four times in the first half but only hadthree points to show for it -- a 41-yard, line-drive field goal fromScaldaferri 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'llface this year," Spurrier said. "Their kids played hard and moved the ball attimes, 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 teamin the country, you need a couple of breaks to survive. And it didn't seemlike the Cats got many yesterday.
With the score 7-3 early in the second quarter, safety Anthony Wajda made aleaping interception of Grossman's pass to Gaffney in the end zone. While theWildcats' defense celebrated, a penalty flag came from the corner of the endzone.
Cornerback Jeremy Bowie was whistled for pass interference, giving Floridaa first-and-goal at the 3 and igniting boos from the crowd that lasted nearlyall the game. Two plays later Grossman hit Taylor Jacobs from 6 yards out tomake 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-yardline four minutes before halftime. But on fourth-and-1, Florida cornerbackLito 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-quarterhorn to take a 16-3 lead.
Still, considering the Gators averaged 55 points in the previous sevenmeetings 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 likewe'd be in the game in the fourth quarter."
They didn't quite make it that far. The Gators were still holding on totheir 16-3 lead when Robert Gillespie was stopped for no gain on fourth-and-1from the UK 29.
But once again, a flag negated the defensive stand. The Cats were penalizedfive yards for lining up in the neutral zone. The crowd booed louder. Threeplays 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. "Wehold them, our kids are jumping up and down on the sidelines, you've got a lotof emotion going, the offense is about ready to go on the field, and there's aflag."
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 alittle 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 alittle 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 armtackles for a 50-yard touchdown run to put Florida up 30-10 at the end of thethird quarter. In the fourth quarter, Gillespie turned a short pass fromGrossman into a 52-yard scoring play to make it 37-10, and backup quarterbackBrock Berlin's 64-yard pass to Reche Caldwell closed the scoring.
"Some of the things that happened to us defensively, we just gotout-athleted on," Morriss said. "On that long run, (Gillespie) ran away frompeople."
As for the UK offense, it again struggled to score. The Cats' onlytouchdown came on Shane Boyd's 2-yard pass to Chase Harp that made it 23-10 inthe 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 toget 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 ranfor 40 yards on seven carries. But Morriss said the rest of the offense needsto step up and do its part.
"I think the 10 people around him have got to step it up," Morriss said. "Ijust don't think we're being fair to Shane to put him in that position towhere he's got to carry this whole offense right now, and for some reason thatseems to be what the 10 other people on offense are doing to him."