GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Sure, Kentucky faced long odds going into The Swamp to play Florida. Its defense was banged up, and the Gators figured to be well-rested and sharp following an open date after a 30-point win over LSU.
But it wasn't the Wildcats' injuries, Florida's speed or a raucous crowd of 90,589 that basically ended the game before it started. It simply boiled down to UK's inability to get off a punt.
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The fifth-ranked Gators blocked the Wildcats' first two punt attempts deep in Kentucky territory, setting up a pair of short touchdown runs that gave them a 14-0 lead less than six minutes into the game. Florida kept piling it on from there, scoring the game's first 35 points en route to a 63-5 win.
It was Kentucky's worst defeat since a 49-0 loss at Louisiana State in 2006, and you have to go back to 1996 when Florida blanked a Bill Curry-led squad 65-0 to find a larger margin of defeat for the Cats. Florida scored more points in the first quarter than the Wildcats had given up in a game all season and outgained Kentucky 446-268.
"I didn't think I'd be up here after a game where we had things go as badly as this," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "Obviously I did a poor job of preparing the team schematically and mentally in every phase."
UK defensive end Jeremy Jarmon wasn't any happier.
"We had a complete collapse offensively, defensively and special teams-wise," he said. "The game didn't start anywhere close to where we wanted it to start."
The banged-up Wildcats defense forced a punt on Flori da's first possession, but UK gave momentum right back when freshman William Green bull-rushed up the middle and stuffed Tim Masthay's punt. Chris Rainey recovered on the UK 3-yard line, and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow scored on a keeper on the next play to give Florida a 7-0 lead four minutes into the game.
Kentucky went three-and-out on its next series and was again forced to punt. This time, another true freshman, Jeff Demps, angled in from the left side and blocked Masthay's kick. The ball skirted to the 1-yard line, where Deonte Thompson fell on it. Brandon James then ran it in for a score and a 14-0 Gators cushion at the 9:22 mark, and UK did little to stop the bleeding.
"The mental breakdowns after having two punts blocked cascaded on us, and I didn't do a good job of getting it stopped or fixed," Brooks said.
In addition to the two blocked punts, the Gators blocked a field-goal attempt. Freshman Randall Cobb got the Cats into scoring range after replacing Mike Hartline at quarterback late in the second quarter, but Florida's Joe Haden deflected Lones Seiber's 32-yard field-goal attempt.
"The kicking game was a disaster," Brooks said.
Kentucky has had five kicks blocked this season, and special-teams coach Steve Ortmayer took responsibility for the debacle after the game.
"It's poor preparation by us, a poor plan by me, and poor demand of the plan by me," Ortmayer said. "We just didn't get it done."
Florida came into the game with one of the nation's best return men in Brandon James, and Ortmayer said his unit spent most of the week focusing on the return. Both Ortmayer and Masthay said the Gators put some new wrinkles in during their open date last week.
"They hadn't rushed a punt all year; they had been a pure return-oriented team," Ortmayer said. "This team obviously had some things going for it, not the least of which was two weeks to prepare. It was new stuff, so that makes it a coaching problem, whether we had seen it before or not."
Jarmon took the heat off the coaching staff, saying that the Cats were properly prepared and just didn't execute.
"All of this lies on us," Jarmon said. "The coaches are going to come in here and talk about, 'it's their fault,' but that's not the case. We knew what we had to do and just didn't do it. We went over a lot of special-teams stuff as far as blocking punts and field goals, and we came out here and made the same damn mistakes we made last week and the week before that."
Tebow had been having somewhat of a down year statistically but he passed for 180 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 48 yards and two scores in a little less than three quarters of action against the Cats.
Percy Harvin's 16-yard run gave the Gators a 21-0 lead with 6:44 left in the first quarter. Then Tebow, under heavy pressure from the UK defensive line, lobbed a perfect strike to Harvin, who beat Trevard Lindley one-on-one downfield for a 33-yard TD and a 28-0 Gators advantage with 3:15 left in the first.
Tebow then found Demps over the middle on a quick slant, and the 5-foot-8, 176-pound speedster turned the corner and bolted down the sideline for a 61-yard score and a 35-0 lead with 11:26 remaining in the first half.
Kentucky scored on a 26-yard field goal from Seiber with 5:03 to go, but Tebow then led the Gators on an 80-yard scoring drive and tacked on his second TD on the ground 26 seconds before intermission to help make it 42-3.
The second half didn't get any better. Brooks reinserted Hartline at quarterback, and on the first play from scrimmage, he threw a pass under pressure right to Florida's Ahmad Black, who returned it 40 yards for a touchdown.
Kentucky (5-3, 1-3) must now regroup and get ready to travel to Mississippi State next week as it tries to qualify for bowl eligibility.
"Today we took a step back," Jarmon said. "It's important that when we go to practice tomorrow, that we find a way to take a step forward. We performed terrible out there today, and it's our fault. Our coaches had a game plan, and we went out there and crumbled."