Story published: Sunday, September 24, 2006
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- The last time Kentucky faced a top-notch football team, the Wildcats took a few quick blows to the chin, hit the canvas and were pretty much out of it the rest of the way.
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The Cats had another bout against a highly ranked opponent last night in fifth-ranked Florida, and unlike the Louisville game, Rich Brooks' squad stood in there, withstood some punches and even threw some of its own.But in the end, the Gators proved too big, too strong and too tough. The Wildcats got worn down by a swarming pass rush and fell 26-7 in front of 90,292 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The Wildcats (2-2, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) came out behind a short passing game and took a 7-6 lead late in the second quarter. But once Florida regained the lead, the Cats' lack of a running game caught up with them. The Gators sacked Kentucky's Andre Woodson six times and outgained the Cats 280-65 after intermission.
But defensive coordinator Mike Archer, who was heavily criticized after his unit gave up 59 points against the Cards, felt good that the Cats gave a better account of themselves this time around.
"It was totally different than the Louisville game," Archer said. "We're not into moral victories, but there are a lot of positives. We competed. They have nothing to be ashamed of.
"We hope people realize that we're a better football team than the last time we played on national TV. We wanted to make sure Florida knew we played them, and I think they know we played them."
Florida appeared to have UK reeling early, as the Gators whipped out a double-reverse flea flicker that resulted in a 33-yard TD pass from Chris Leak to Jamelle Cornelius less than three minutes into the game.
But Woodson got into a rhythm, keeping the Gators' defense off balance with a series of quick hitters where he got rid of the ball before the pressure came.
Kentucky drove 66 yards on eight plays, capped by Maurice Grinter's 1-yard touchdown catch with 1:59 left in the first half. Woodson was 6-for-6 for 49 yards on the drive, but the highlight was a scintillating run on a reverse by David Jones.
Jones took a pitch from Curtis Pulley at the 7-yard line, broke to the left side of the field, cut back toward the middle, ran into Jacob Tamme, spun back right and bulled his way to the 1.
UK relinquished the lead just before intermission. Florida needed just seven plays and 1:37 before tailback Deshawn Wynn scored on a 13-yard run to put the Gators back in front 12-7 with 22 seconds left in the half.
Kentucky blew a golden opportunity on Florida's first drive of the second half. The ball popped out of the grasp of Wynn and dribbled forward. Marcus McClinton unsuccessfully tried to scoop the ball off the ground, and Myron Pyror and Trevard Lindley also had a shot at recovering the fumble, but it was Florida fullback Billy Latsko who dived in and retrieved the ball. The play resulted in a 36-yard gain to the Wildcat 30-yard line.
"We had a guy try to pick it up instead of falling on it, and we've got two or three guys that had a chance at it and didn't get it," Brooks said. "That was a killer."
Kestahn Moore eventually scored on a 5-yard run to push the lead to 19-7 with 7:41 left in the third quarter.
"If we get that fumble, they don't score, we get the ball and you never know," Archer said.
The Kentucky defense did force a couple of turnovers to thwart a pair of Florida drives that could have sealed the game. But with the Cats behind, and with very little threat of a running game (39 yards on 22 attempts), the Gators' speedy defensive ends were able to tee off on Woodson.
"They just pinned their ears back and starting bringing heat," Brooks said. "We had some miscommunication, and sometimes we were physicially beaten. But we've got to protect better than that, even when we know they're coming. The real killer was we couldn't get the running game going to keep them more honest."
A 6-yard pass from Leak to Cornelius Ingram with 10:04 left clinched it for the Gators.
Now Brooks and his club must regroup and get ready for next Saturday's non-conference home game with Central Michigan.
"I thought we had a pretty good chance at it, but we missed a couple of opportunities," Brooks said. "I'm hopeful we can take something out of this."