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CATS TAKE 9-7 LEAD, THEN FLORIDA TAKES OVER

Date story was published||| Sunday, November 18, 1990

There was no major mystery here, no reason for educated guesses, no need for expert analysis. Simply put, Kentucky's worst fear became rock-hard reality yesterday at Commonwealth Stadium. The Gators were good.

Make that great. Quarterback Shane Matthews threw for 303 yards and four touchdowns. The Gator defense held Kentucky to 19 yards rushing and forced four turnovers. And Florida trashed the Cats 47-15.

"There's nothing to say," said UK Coach Bill Curry, "except that's obviously a vastly superior football team on the other sideline. They whipped us every way you can whip us. They're one of the best teams I've ever coached against."

Wideout Ernie Mills caught eight passes, two for scores. Halfback Errict Rhett rushed for 111 yards, all in the second half. And Florida intercepted UK quarterback Freddie Maggard three times -- Gatorback Godfrey Myles taking one theft 52 yards for yet another touchdown -- and sacked him four times as first-year Coach Steve Spurrier's cast clinched a first-place finish in the SEC.

Unofficially. Officially, fresh from successive routs of Auburn (48-7) and Georgia (38-7), the Gators ran their record to 9-1 overall and 6-1 in the league. That, coupled with Tennessee's win over Ole Miss yesterday, gives the Gators sole possession of first place in the standings. But a one-year probation keeps them from claiming either the trophy or a post-season bowl invitation.

"I'm going to call myself an SEC champion whether the NCAA likes it or not," cornerback Richard Fain said. "We did it where it counted -- on the field."

Indeed, Florida exhibited a near breathtaking combination of finesse and power. With Matthews (227 yards the first half) firing precision bullets, Spurrier's pro-style attack rolled up 537 yards total offense. And the Florida defense, rated second in the nation, allowed a 73-yard touchdown by Al Baker off a first-quarter screen pass, then smothered the Cats -- zero yards second quarter; 48 in the third.

Baker -- a senior tailback averaging 118 yards over his last five games -- was held to 15 yards on nine carries, snapping the senior's streak of three consecutive 100-yard efforts.

"They remind me a lot of last year's Miami team," said Curry, whose Alabama team lost to the Hurricanes 33-25 in the Sugar Bowl. "Their weapons are kind of the same. They can just fly."

UK actually soared early. Rover Larry Jackson appeared to have Matthews sacked for a safety on Florida's first possession, only to have the official mark the ball at the Gator 1. No matter. Next play, senior bandit Jeff Brady blitzed untouched and decked Matthews for the two points.

Myles then picked off a Maggard pass at the Gator 48 and returned it for the score -- Florida's fifth defensive touchdown of the season. But UK answered, Baker taking a pass on the right sideline, blockers in front. The senior blew by Gator defenders down the right sideline for the score -- at 73 yards, UK's longest of the season -- and a 9-7 Kentucky lead.

First-quarter stats: UK led 155-87 in total yards; 11:04-3:56 in time of possession. "At that point," Brady said, "we definitely thought we could play with them."

They thought wrong. To put pressure on Matthews, the Cats spent the day blitzing, which put UK defenders in man-to-man coverage on the swift Gator receivers. An off-target Matthews and the strategy works. An on-target Matthews and it's a long day.

Said Matthews, "I love the blitz."

By the second quarter, he was showing why. Gator safety Will White, the leading interceptor in the SEC, made his seventh theft of the season, giving Florida the ball at its 37. Halfback Willie McClendon dashed 30 yards. Four plays later, Matthews hit Mills for a 17-yard score. Florida led 14-9.

"It was easy," Mills said.

It got easier. Defensive tackle Brad Culpepper recovered a Baker fumble at the UK 32. Matthews hit Mills for a 19-yard score. Florida led 21-9.

Next series, the Gators marched 87 yards. Matthews hit Mills for 18 yards to the UK 29, then tight end Kirk Kirkpatrick 21 yards to the 8. Fullback Kelvin Randolph scored from there. Florida 28-9.

A 30-yard field goal from Arden Czyzewski at the horn made it 31-9 Gators at the half. An 80-yard march to start the second half made it 37-9. Matthews fired touchdown No. 3, hitting Tre Everett for a 24-yard score.

"They knew whenever we were in man and went right at it," said UK corner Gary Willis. "You have to give them credit. I haven't seen an offensive machine like that."

The final period was practically academic. Kentucky did get a lift from backup Ryan Hockman, making his first collegiate appearance at quarterback. The sophomore hit 10 of 13 passes for 134 yards. First series, he led UK on an 87-yard drive, sneaking in from the 1 for the score. Which, alas, made the count 44-15 Gators with 11:24 remaining. "We had our chances early and couldn't take advantage," Curry said. "And we turned the ball over four times in the first half. You just can't do that against a team like Florida."

And win. Thus Kentucky dropped to 4-6 overall and 3-3 in the SEC.

"There's nothing really to analyze," Curry said. "We just got beat."

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