It was a tough enough task for the Kentucky football team to come up with a top-notch effort against an elite team two weeks in a row.
Then you throw in the fact that Florida Coach Urban Meyer had an extra week to prepare for yesterday's big SEC East showdown, and you knew the Wildcats had some potential problems.Sure enough, the Gators came out in front of a Commonwealth Stadium record crowd of 71,024 and performed like a well-oiled machine. Offensively, they got a huge performance from quarterback Tim Tebow and played four quarters of turnover-free football. Defensively, they disrupted the Kentucky offense with constant pressure on Andre Woodson, and that blueprint added up to a 45-37 victory for the defending national champions.
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It was an entertaining game that capped off a topsy-turvy day in the SEC East as South Carolina lost to Vanderbilt and Tennessee was blown out at Alabama. About the only consolation that the Cats could take from the game was the fact they join four other division teams with two losses.
"The disappointing thing is if we had won tonight, we would have been alone (in first place) and would have been in fantastic shape," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "If we take care of business moving forward, we're still alive... There is a lot of football left, we have four games and we need to take care of business next week against Mississippi State and see what happens from there."
It wasn't as if the Cats played all that poorly yesterday. Like Florida, they were flagged just four times and didn't commit a turnover, and they even outgained the Gators 512-427. Woodson threw for 415 yards and tied a career-high with five TD passes.
But while Kentucky was good, Florida was just a little bit better. The Gators were 7-for-11 on third down, including several key conversions that helped them preserve the lead after UK had erased a 28-10 deficit to close to within 31-24 late in the third quarter.
"You get used to winning," said senior center Eric Scott. "That's something I had grown accustomed to. Overall I think we played a good game, but they had our number and pulled it off."
Another big factor: The Gators converted all five of their scoring opportunities in the red zone while Kentucky left points on the board in the first half. Lones Seiber missed a 48-yard field goal with the score tied at 7 in the final minute of the first quarter, and two plays later Tebow dropped a beautiful 66-yard bomb to Louis Murphy to take a 14-7 lead.
UK's next drive stalled at the Florida 29 when Woodson appeared to have a miscommunication with Keenan Burton and threw an incomplete pass on fourth-and-nine.
"We missed several scoring opportunities in the first half, and that put us behind the 8-ball," Brooks said.
A week after holding a touted LSU defensive line without a sack, the Wildcats gave up a season-high six sacks to the Gators.
"Their pass rush got to us a little more than I would have liked," Brooks said.
Another area where Kentucky came up short was its kicking game. After a 27-yard Seiber field goal brought UK to within 14-10, the Cats gave up a 61-yard kickoff return by Brandon James that gave Florida a short field and allowed them to take a 21-10 halftime lead.
A shanked 25-yard punt by Tim Masthay gave the Gators another short field on their first drive of the third quarter, and Tebow needed just seven plays to take Florida 46 yards for a 28-10 cushion on an 8-yard TD strike to Andre Caldwell.
Much as they have all season, the Cats showed resiliency and fought back to within seven (31-24) when Dicky Lyons Jr. took a middle screen and broke 50 yards down the left sideline with 3:05 left in the third period.
Once again, Florida responded by converting on the big plays when they needed to. Tebow hit Caldwell for a 14-yard gain on third-and-7 from the Florida 35 to keep the chains moving, and Percy Harvin took a handoff from Tebow and bolted in from 24 yards out to push the Gators back ahead by two touchdowns (38-24) with 11:57 remaining.
"When you get down to one score, that's when you get all the ulcers and gray hairs and you have to match them," Meyer said. "I thought our offense did a heck of a job matching score for score."
Lyons' third TD catch of the day made it a one-score game at 3:35, but the Cats took a lot of the life out of a miraculous comeback attempt on the ensuing kickoff.
Brooks elected to kick it deep rather than go for an onside kick, but Masthay's squib-like kick went right to James at the Florida 17. James returned it all the way to the Gator 43, and Tebow would put the icing on the cake with a 2-yard run with 1:33 left.
The Wildcats knew they'd get Florida's best shot after the Gators had a week to freshen up following a tough 28-24 loss at LSU.
"We expected them to come in and play strong and play fast," UK senior receiver Steve Johnson said. "But we also expected to win. They came out and executed, but I believe we could have won this game. We came back, but it was too little, too late."
Date story ran: Sunday, October 21, 2007