UK Football

Mark Story: Missed opportunities enough to make Cats sick

Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Dorian Baker (2) dropped a would be touchdown in the first quarter as Kentucky played Florida on Saturday September 19, 2015 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff
Kentucky Wildcats wide receiver Dorian Baker (2) dropped a would be touchdown in the first quarter as Kentucky played Florida on Saturday September 19, 2015 in Lexington, KY. Photo by Mark Cornelison | Staff Herald-Leader

When Mark Stoops and his Kentucky players watch the tape of Saturday's loss to Florida, one hopes there will be an ample supply of, well, barf bags available.

When the Cats see all the opportunities that were available to end their historic losing streak to the Gators, pandemic-level sickness will engulf the UK film room.

As it always does, Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC) beat Kentucky (2-1, 1-1) in football. A dominant Gators defense kept UK out of the end zone and allowed UF to leave Lexington with a 14-9 win.

A Commonwealth Stadium crowd of 63,040 that came hoping to celebrate the end of a streak, instead watched Florida best UK for a 29th straight time.

Of all the misery that has befallen Kentucky in its victory drought against the Gators, missed opportunities by UK will make this one of the most frustrating.

"I wish," Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops said, "we could have made a few more plays."

In a sense, the game's tone was set on Kentucky's fourth offensive play from scrimmage.

From the Florida 41, UK quarterback Patrick Towles lofted a pass to an open Dorian Baker in the Gators end zone.

The UK wideout dropped a certain touchdown.

Two plays later, a high Towles pass was tipped into the air, and Florida star cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III picked it off and returned it to the Kentucky 19. That set up the first UF touchdown, a 1-yard QB sneak by Will Grier.

That swing, from dropped UK TD pass to Florida short-field touchdown, turned out to be the difference in the game.

Kentucky's night of missed opportunities was just starting.

Against a Gators defense that might not be quite as deep as vintage Gators units but is still stocked with abundant "Florida speed," UK had no margin for error.

It kept erring.

Early in the game, Kentucky wasted favorable field position. UK's first drive started on its own 43; its third on the Wildcats' 48.

Those drives netted the Cats zero points.

UK went into the locker at halftime down 14-3.

After halftime, a gutty Kentucky defensive effort — boosted by a J.D. Harmon interception in the Florida end zone — throttled the Gators. For the game, Florida was only 2-for-11 on third downs, went 2-for-4 in the red zone and had only 245 yards total offense.

In the second half, Kentucky moved the ball in fits and starts, but miscues kept foiling drives.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, UK's Blake Bone broke open on a slant in the end zone on a third-and-goal from the Florida five. Towles sailed his pass too high, however.

UK settled for an Austin MacGinnis field goal that made it 14-6.

After the Kentucky defense forced a three-and-out, Towles hit a streaking Jeff Badet with a perfect throw for a 45-yard gain to Florida's 24.

Two plays later, Garrett Johnson was open in the end zone but Towles overthrew him a step. That drive, too, ended in a field goal.

With the UK defense holding, the Kentucky offense had two more chances to end the Florida futility.

But Towles missed an open Baker on third-and-12 from the UK 47 to end the first drive, then failed to throw the ball away and took a sack to foil the final one.

So Kentucky lost to Florida again.

"What I emphasized to our team all week was the team that played the clean game would win," Stoops said. "We didn't play a clean game. And that's what's frustrating. That's what's hard."

Towles was under pressure all night (sacked six times) and was victimized by several drops. But he also missed big plays with high throws.

His final numbers, 8-for-24 for 126 yards with two picks (the final one on a last-gasp desperation heave) will only heighten concerns about his accuracy.

"He can play better, and we can play better around him," Stoops said.

Rather than Towles, Bill Ransdell, now 52 years old, will remain the most recent Kentucky quarterback to beat Florida (1986).

For UK to ever build legitimacy as an SEC football program, it has to be able to beat teams like Florida when it catches the Gators in a year of coaching transition and when Florida's roster is merely very good, not great.

On Saturday, Kentucky had ample opportunities to do that. Which is why a flu epidemic would not cause as much illness as watching the Florida game film will.

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