Date story was published: Sunday, September 24, 2000
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Things looked good for a while, but in the end the Kentucky Wildcats were left singing the same ol' Swamp song.
Led by quarterback Jared Lorenzen, the Cats came out and went toe-to-toe with third-ranked Florida for nearly a half. But the UK momentum was killed by two costly turnovers just before intermission that allowed the Gators to take control and cruise to a 59-31 win in front of 85,319 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field.
Florida quarterback Jesse Palmer had passed for more than 2,500 career yards. But yesterday the 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior decided to play Michael Vick and ran for a school-record-tying four touchdowns.
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Relying on his legs instead of his right arm was definitely a new twist for Palmer.
"I don't think I've ever even scored two touchdowns in a game," he said. "I wouldn't look for this to happen too often."
But the UK miscues were the real story of the game. Florida played mistake-free football while the Cats gave the ball away four times, with the two most damaging miscues coming right before halftime.
Trailing 24-17, the Wildcats' defense forced the Gators into their first punt of the afternoon, and UK had the ball with a chance for a game-tying drive with 2:11 remaining in the first half.
Instead, the wheels came off.
On the first play of the series, Lorenzen tried to force a pass into Dougie Allen, but Lito Sheppard stepped in for the interception at the UK 16. Palmer scored his third touchdown on a 1-yard keeper two plays later to give the Gators a 31-17 lead with 1:28 left before intermission.
The Cats got the ball back, but on their first play of the possession Alex Brown stripped the ball from Artose Pinner and Guss Scott recovered at the UK 32. Palmer found a wide-open Kirk Wells over the middle for a score on the next play, and suddenly Florida was up 38-17 with 1:03 remaining.
In a matter of five plays -- one minute and eight seconds -- the Cats went from a potential game-tying drive to a 21-point deficit.
"It was the turning point of the game; it really was," UK Coach Hal Mumme said of the turnovers. "We finally worked our defense around, managed to put up a stop and got them right in the perfect spot. Then we throw an interception and come right back with a fumble."
The 63-second sequence took a lot of wind out of the Cats' sails.
"It affected us," Pinner said. "Here we are with a chance to go in tied, and all of a sudden we're down 21. The coaches were real positive in the locker room, but you can tell it affected us."
Mumme noted that the four miscues were made by a redshirt freshman (Lorenzen) and a sophomore (Pinner).
"Young guys just trying to make plays," he said. "Jared was trying for a big play. It was a deep drop pass and he was trying to force it in the hole. A freshman mistake caught up with us there."
Mumme thought Pinner, who rushed for 125 yards on 17 carries after Chad Scott left in the second quarter with a sprained ankle, should have been ruled down before the fumble.
"(Pinner) hit the ground with his knee and his butt and turned over and they took the ball away from him," he said. "I guess he's gonna have to hang onto it longer."
It was all Gators in the second half. On the opening drive of the third period, Earnest Graham took a toss off right tackle, broke into the clear, juked Anthony Wajda at the 30-yard line and scampered in for a 57-yard touchdown run and a 45-17 Florida lead.
Palmer's fourth touchdown run, a 13-yarder with 8:34 left in the third quarter, gave the Gators their biggest lead at 52-17. He also completed 12 of 19 passes for 190 yards and a score. Graham picked up 128 yards on 14 carries before calling it an afternoon late in the third quarter.
"Our offensive guys played well most of the day," Florida Coach Steve Spurrier said. "Jesse ran well, and Earnest Graham ran well."
Once again, Kentucky struggled to make tackles, allowing several Florida ball carriers to break free from the line of scrimmage and pick up big gains.
"We were very poor tackling today," Mumme said. "I don't know what we have to do to solve that."
Lorenzen had a good showing in his first outing at the Swamp, completing 35 of 59 passes for 363 yards and two touchdowns. He added a 5-yard scoring run late in the third quarter.
Kentucky actually outgained Florida 504-452, and also controlled the ball for 38-plus minutes and went 6-for-7 on fourth down.
The offensive line also protected Lorenzen well, giving up only one sack to the Gators' defense and allowing him to complete a pair of 45-yard bombs to Quentin McCord in the first half and two touchdown passes to Derek Smith.
"Kentucky hogged the ball and we struggled getting them off the field," Spurrier said. "Maybe Kentucky is just that good at throwing and catching."
But as good as the Cats were at throwing and catching, the barrage of turnovers and an inability to stop the Gators' offense made it a moot point.
"Even as poor as we played on defense, without the turnovers we're in the game," Mumme said.
Smith reflected on what might have been.
"They didn't stop us at all, really. We stopped ourselves. Every time we drove, we scored. If you take away our four turnovers, that's four drives we could have scored on. We lost by four touchdowns, and we cost ourselves four touchdowns."