GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kentucky had a new coach in Joker Phillips.
Florida had a new quarterback, one not named Tim Tebow.
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Kentucky came into the game having not committed a turnover in three games, and promptly threw a pair of first-half interceptions, one returned for a touchdown.
Florida came in having not scored in the first quarter, and jumped to a two-touchdown lead before the first 15 minutes were completed.
The dancers change, but the song remains the same.
This streak is now 24.
Florida beat Kentucky 48-14 on Saturday night in The Swamp, for the Gators another routine annual win from the boys from the Bluegrass, the 24th in a row, this time a tuneup before Urban Meyer's Gators tussle with top-ranked Alabama next week in Tuscaloosa.
For Kentucky, the tuneups for the first SEC game were a road trip to Louisville, then home blowouts over Western Kentucky and Akron, where the numbers were impressive but the opposition was no more than a slight breeze.
Playing the Toppers and the Zips is hardly preparation for the speed shock the Cats faced Saturday. The home team blew by like a strong wind. And by the time UK adjusted, the Gators were gone, gone, gone.
Blocked punts had helped spark the Florida routs the past two years. This time, it was turnovers.
Kentucky quarterback Mike Hartline was eighth in the nation in pass efficiency and had not thrown a pick all season. Saturday, the fifth-year senior threw a pick-six. Florida's Jeremy Brown took the theft 52 yards for a score to make it 21-0 Florida.
After giving up a pair of touchdowns in the first quarter, Steve Brown's defense played well in the second 15 minutes. But the Gators made the necessary adjustments the second half. Steve Addazio's offense found a huge hole in the center of the field — UK's linebackers were no match for the Gators' foot speed — and Florida had a field day the rest of the way.
Florida's mini-Tebow, backup quarterback Trey Burton, scored six touchdowns. When the true freshman was in the game, he got the ball. And he scored. And he scored.
But let's not belabor the point. The Cats have made plenty of progress these past four or five years, but they are not in Florida's league, not even a Florida that is not the same Florida as the veteran Gators of the past couple of years.
Give Phillips some credit. The coach came to play, calling a fake field goal late in the first half that worked to perfection. Holder Randall Cobb took the snap and hit a wide-open Chris Matthews for the touchdown to make it 21-7. But that momentum was quickly squashed when the Gators took the second-half kickoff and marched 71 yards for a touchdown.
So much for snapping the streak.
The good news is there are other streaks to be snapped. A date with South Carolina is a couple of weeks off, and Kentucky hasn't beaten the Gamecocks in 10 years.
Then, at regular season's end, awaits Tennessee, and it has been over a quarter-century (1984) since Kentucky beat the Vols in football. And in case you haven't noticed, this year anyway the Vols just aren't very good in football.
The hope is this Kentucky team will get better. The Cats have no more FBS bottom-feeders to play. It's more of the rough stuff. Next week's foe, Ole Miss, is no great shakes, but the game is in Oxford. And the Rebs routed Fresno State on Saturday night.
Don't blame Phillips just because he couldn't do what Rich Brooks, Hal Mumme, Bill Curry and Jerry Claiborne (his final three years) could not do before him. The key for Kentucky's first-year coach now is bringing the Cats back after the cold splash of reality. Kentucky may be good, but it's not good enough to change history. It wasn't on Saturday night in the Swamp.
Lexington Herald-Leader | kentucky.com Sunday, September 26, 2010