UK Football

John Clay: A 'winnable' game goes by the wayside

Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) lay on the ground after taking a 4th quarter sack, as Kentucky fell to  Florida 14-9 on Saturday September 19, 2015 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats quarterback Patrick Towles (14) lay on the ground after taking a 4th quarter sack, as Kentucky fell to Florida 14-9 on Saturday September 19, 2015 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

The beat goes on.

The streak goes on.

This was supposed to be the year that Kentucky would snap its 28-game losing streak against the Florida Gators. This was a new-and-improved Kentucky, after all. This was a down Florida. New year, new team, new situation, new outcome. Right?

It didn't work out that way. These may not be vintage Gators, but defensively Florida is still very good, especially up front. And for the most part, Florida's defensive line dominated the host Cats on the way to a 14-9 win at Commonwealth Stadium.

Mark Stoops' Cats held Florida to just 245 yards, but managed just 241 yards themselves.

"This game was easily winnable if the offense does it's job," said offensive coordinator Shannon Dawson. "That's on me."

At times UK quarterback Patrick Towles was harrassed by the Florida rush. Other times, Towles held the ball and held the ball staring into the Gators' tight coverage.

The junior quarterback completed just eight of 24 passes for 126 yards with no touchdowns and two picks.

"Florida was very disruptive defensively," Stoops said afterward, saying of his team's pass protection, "There were some issues. We knew that going into the game."

Six times the Gators sacked Towles. The Kentucky quarterback had been sacked just four times the first two games, including just once at South Carolina last Saturday.

It was in Columbia where the Cats began what they hoped would be a streak-busting run, beating the Gamecocks 26-22. In the first half of the first two games, Towles had directed an offense that clicked on all cylinders, leading both Lousiana-Lafayette and South Carolina 24-7. This time around, UK trailed 14-3 at the half.

It moved the ball better in the second half, kicking a pair of field goals. But possible touchdown drives ended with just three points instead of six. And Kentucky needed the six.

"Patrick has done some very good things," Stoops said. "I'm not going to throw Patrick under the bus."

Florida was too busy throwing Towles to the ground.

"They're big athletic, disruptive guys," Stoops said of the Gators. "I saw some spots (on film) where they were all four guys (on the line) were winning one-on-one."

"Yeah," said Dawson when asked if he knew Florida would be tough to hold off in pass protection. "But you've got have something else to go to. That's my fault."

Florida won a lot of one-on-one battles Saturday night. Florida came into the game allowing just 1.16 yards per rush. Kentucky ended up with 115 yards on 41 carries. After three straight 100-yard rushing games, Boom Williams picked up 80 yards on 16 carries.

But the Cats could never really break the long runs that had helped the offense in the first two games. Forced into passing situations, the home team had a tough time either getting time to complete throws, or complete the throws.

The latter hurt Kentucky early when Dorian Baker dropped a pass in the end zone on UK's first possession. Two plays later, a Towles throw to Baker went through the receivers hands and was picked off by Florida's cornerback star Vernon Hargreaves, who returned it 53 yards to set up the Gators' first touchdown.

"The last thing I wanted to do was give them an easy touchdown," said Dawson. "And I gave them an easy touchdown."

Kentucky's defense played well enough to win. Florida quarterback Will Grier completed 13 of 22 passes for just 125 yards, but did hurt Kentucky scrambling, picking up 61 yards on 12 runs.

It didn't matter. Even as the Florida offense floundered under Will Muschamp the last four years, the Gators had a Top 20-type defense. A lot of those players were back for new coach Jim McElwain and that showed on Saturday night.

"We never really gave our crowd a chance to get into the game," Stoops said.

Or end the streak.

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