GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Kentucky's coaches knew they had something special in Garrett Johnson and said it over and over again at the start of fall camp.
Then the true freshman wide receiver hurt his finger catching a ball and had to miss a couple of weeks.
"I was so upset when it happened," he said late Saturday night. "The pain wasn't even there. Being that it was camp, that was an opportunity for me to kind of make a name for myself."
He may have made that name for himself a few weeks later at Florida, pulling down six catches for 154 yards and two touchdowns, including one 60-yarder in a 36-30 three-overtime loss to the Gators.
It was a dream night for a kid from Winter Garden, about two hours south of Gainesville.
Before he broke out on a big stage, Johnson came into the game with three catches for 25 yards in his first two games.
"They came down and played a lot of cover one, were daring us to take shots," quarterback Patrick Towles said. "We got to open up the field a little bit, spread it around. When I've got him out there, it's nice for sure."
Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops knew it was hard for Johnson to wait for the finger to heal to make an impact. He tried to keep the freshman's focus on the long-term plan.
"We thought of all the young wideouts, he was the guy early that we knew was very smooth, very precise, knew the offense, very mature," Stoops said.
"We were very high on him all along," Stoops said. "He's gonna be a very good football player."
Looking back, Johnson thinks maybe the stitches in his finger and the long wait to get back might have been good for him.
"I do feel that I took it upon myself to just get more in the playbook, get more mentally strong, be more mentally into the game," he said. "I feel like it really helped."
Young linemen have busy night
Kentucky's offensive line took some hits in the loss at Florida, with as many as four different red-shirt freshman playing because of various injuries and issues.
Cole Mosier, a red-shirt freshman walk-on, played every snap in place of Zach West, who missed with a neck injury. Ramsey Meyers also played every snap.
Red-shirt freshmen Kyle Meadows and Nick Haynes played significant amounts of time and senior Darrian Miller came back into the game after suffering a stinger.
"He's a stud," offensive coordinator Neal Brown said. "He's a really good player. He competed hard."
Brown was just as impressed with the young linemen, especially since Kentucky threw the ball 45 times in the loss.
"I was really proud of how those guys competed," Brown said. "There's a lot of NFL guys playing up front there, so you're talking about playing four red-shirt freshmen in their first away game and it was there — on big-time television, lot of screaming fans, so we'll build on this. We'll build on this and get better."
Florida and Kentucky came into the game as two of only 12 programs left in the nation to go without a turnover.
They knocked each other off the list.
The first one to fall was Florida, when Nate Willis grabbed his first career pick, pulling a Driskel pass out of the air. The big play by the Pahokee, Fla., native was the Cats' third interception of the season, tying their total for all of last season.
Towles, who had thrown 80 straight passes without an interception, had three of them on Saturday against the Gators (two were picked off by Keanu Neal). But his coaches didn't seem concerned.
"I can't put all the interceptions on him," Stoops said. "The one late, down the sideline on third down, that was as good as punt. Threw it up and gave our guy an opportunity to make a play. We had to resort to that a little bit, where we wanted our big wideouts to try to go up and make a play.
"And, again, they're very good defenders. We hit a few and they made some good plays, so give them credit."
Brown said nothing but good things about his sophomore quarterback making his third career start at the Swamp.
"I was extremely proud of him; that's as on throwing the ball as I've seen him," the UK offensive coordinator said. "He had 370 yards and probably two drops for another 70. He could've been sitting here with 450 yards passing. In here, in this atmosphere."