Three hot topics from Kentucky football's Saturday night in The Swamp:
1. Officiating. When Rich Brooks arrived at Kentucky in 2003 as a veteran of the old Pac-10 and the NFL, it did not take long for the new head coach to be surprised by the quality of officiating in the SEC. And that wasn't a compliment.
After Saturday's 36-30 three-overtime loss to Florida, current Kentucky coach Mark Stoops could be forgiven if he feels the exact same way.
We refer here, of course, to the officials missing the significant fact that the play clock struck zero before Florida snapped the football on a do-or-die, fourth-and-six from the UK 9-yard line with the Gators trailing 27-20 in the first overtime.
After Jeff Driskel found Demarcus Robinson for the touchdown, Stoops came all the way out to midfield to protest the non-call to referee Matt Carlis, who chose not to flag the Kentucky coach for unsportsmanlike conduct. Reason: Carlis may have suspected Stoops was right.
And, in another league policy that would seem difficult to explain, hard hits are reviewable, but play clock issues apparently are not.
The SEC released a statement Sunday afternoon that said it reviewed the play, per UK's request, and that it was "determined the officials applied the proper mechanics and guidelines that are in place to determine when a flag should be thrown for delay of game."
That wasn't Saturday's only bad/questionable call. The officials turned a blind eye to an obvious late hit/spear by UK defensive tackle Regie Meant in the first half. There were some questionable pass interference calls.
Kentucky didn't lose the game because of the clock non-call — Florida would still have had another fourth down — but you could argue it went a long way toward Kentucky not winning. I think Stoops would make that argument.
2. Newcomers on the big stage. In the late, late post-game, UK offensive coordinator Neal Brown didn't want to hear any talk of moral victories. "Don't even," he said.
Was it a missed opportunity to snap Kentucky's now 28-year losing streak to the Gators? Yes. Was it an empty evening for the visitors? Not by a long shot.
Let's take roll: Garrett Johnson is a true freshman. Stanley Williams is a true freshman. Blake Bone is a true freshman. Dorian Baker is a true freshman. All are members of the UK offense who made huge plays Saturday night, especially Johnson, who caught six balls for 154 yard and two touchdowns.
Meanwhile, as Kentucky's offense struggled to find its footing in the first half, the defense played lights-out, holding Florida to a field goal, sending the message to the host Gators this would be different.
UK's lack of quality depth on the defensive side of the ball was exposed in the second half as Florida's running game went smashmouth with much success. And yet the UK defense made enough plays down the stretch to extend the game to overtime.
3. The future is now. UK's off week, while early, comes at a good time. The Cats have to be spent from a game that included a combined 172 snaps. And beside the physical cost, there's the mental toll on a young team trying to make a mark in the nation's toughest league.
How good is Florida? Wracked with injuries a year ago, the Gators went 4-8. They are obviously better, but we'll find out more this week when Will Muschamp's team plays at Alabama. The guess here is that the Gators are good, not great.
Kentucky is much better. After three games, that's obvious. Remember, Kentucky's only 2013 touchdown against the visiting Gators came on a fake field goal. The quarterback is better. The running backs are better. The wide receivers are better. The defense is better.
The focus now is the mental approach. No coach wants to settle for a close loss, but Saturday night could be a springboard. The young Cats showed they are plenty good enough to go toe-to-toe in a tough environment against a team with terrific athletes.
The next step is to learn how to win those types of games, because more are coming soon.