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FLORIDA'S BALANCE WEARS DOWN CATS, PRODUCES 35-19 WIN

Date story was published: Sunday, September 13, 1992

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Shane Matthews is a harp. His passes own the zing of a musical instrument, with grace and rhythm and uncommon accuracy. He hits the notes. Errict Rhett is a jackhammer. He takes his carries by the pitch, builds steam, then crumbles any poor defender who dares block his path.

They are quite a pair. And together, fourth-ranked Florida's harp and hammer squelched any empty hopes the University of Kentucky had of pulling a shocker yesterday at Florida Field. No shocker here. Just Gators, 35-19.

Matthews, Florida's stellar quarterback, threw for 340 yards and four touchdowns. The smooth senior completed 28 of 47 passes, including a first- half showing of 18 completions, three touchdowns.

Rhett, the Gators' fusion of speed and muscle at tailback, gained 193 yards on 33 carries, scoring on one tote. The junior also caught seven passes for 50 yards.

"The story is very simple, everybody here knows what it is," UK Coach Bill Curry said afterward, his white shirt soaked clear through. "Florida has phenomenal skill athletes, with worlds of talent, experience, and fine coaching and systems, and they made the great plays when they had to."

That we knew. Steve Spurrier's club did not pass through last season undefeated in the Southeastern Conference from lack of talent.

And yet these Gators were supposed to be different, perhaps vulnerable. They were younger, first-year starters up and down both lines. Plus, they were just starting out, yesterday being Florida's season opener. Kentucky had a kickoff under its belt, an early chance to hone its new I-Bone and iron out kinks.

It made no difference.

"I thought their inexperience would give us a better opportunity," Curry said, "but they looked about the same to me."

Florida stoned (to borrow a Curry phrase) UK's I-Bone. To startle the nation's fourth-ranked team, ball control was a must. Instead, the new Cat engine sputtered as if ready for a recall, managing 90 yards rushing, 263 yards total. Only twice were possessions sustained for more than seven plays.

"Florida's got a hell of a defense," said UK quarterback Pookie Jones, "but we were too inconsistent offensively."

That put the Kentucky defense off the bench and on the field, where it could do little with the bigger, quicker Gators. Florida rolled up 541 yards -- the sixth time in UK's last 16 games the Cats have been battered for more than 500 yards.

"I was very disappointed with our tackling," Curry said. "There were plenty of times when we had people in position to make tackles, and we didn't wrap up and get them on the ground like we should have."

But by taking constant pitch sweeps, or motoring up the middle on draw plays, Rhett is no easy stop. "He is hard-nosed, runs with a forward lean and is just very solid when he gets knocked backwards," Spurrier said.

"He's a great running back," UK senior strike Dean Wells said. "But we still didn't do a good job locking up."

This was not a game without Cat chances, however. In fact, the first 12 minutes portended the chance of a Gator rout. A 1-yard pass on fourth-and-goal from Matthews to a leaping Monty Duncan made it 7-0. A 25-yard Matthews' strike to Harrison Houston made it 14-0. But UK came back.

Quarterback Ryan Hockman, working a series in place of Jones, hit flanker Kurt Johnson on the right sideline, and the diminutive senior motored 49 yards for the score, cutting the lead to 14-7.

Next series, second play, safety Willie Cannon -- starting for the injured Brad Armstead -- intercepted a Matthews pass at the Florida 35-yard line and returned it to the 11. Doug Pelfrey kicked a 27-yard field goal. Florida 14-10.

Even after Matthews delivered his third scoring pass, Pelfrey nailed a 50- yard field goal on the final play of the half. It was the sixth career field goal of 50 or more yards for the senior from Edgewood, Ky. It made the halftime count 21-13.

But that was it for the "triple-stack option/wishbone option, whatever they call it," Spurrier said. "It still comes down to blocking and execution."

Kentucky did neither. Its second-half drive chart started three plays and punt, three plays and a roughing the kicker penalty, three plays and punt, seven plays and punt. A Ken Johnson 25-yard interception return of an errant Matthews' pass -- made errant by a hard hit from linebacker Marty Moore -- accounted for the Cats' only second-half points.

Florida scored twice in the second half. Matthews threw for one. Rhett ran for the other, capping a 91-yard drive. "We didn't really help the defense out," Jones said.

Statistically the outcome was not much different from last November, when Florida prevailed 35-29. Intangibly, however, it was worlds apart from when UK turned 28-3 Gators into 28-26 before losing.

"Last year, I think we surprised them," Wells said. "This year, we came down here fully believing we would win."

"I think Kentucky is going to beat some teams this year, I really do," said Spurrier, adding some uncharacteristic graciousness to a Gator win. "They played tough and if we didn't make some of those first downs it would have been a very close game."

But Florida is likely to win more games. A harp and a hammer should see to that.

Or, as Ryan Hockman said, "We're not going to see too many teams this year as good as they are."

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