Three takeaways from Kentucky’s 27-16 win at Florida:
1. The streak is now 1 – as in Kentucky’s streak over Florida.
Reversing 31 years worth of history took a room full of heroes. Running back Benny Snell rushed for 175 yards on 27 carries. Quarterback Terry Wilson threw for 151 yards and two scores while also rushing for 105 yards and another touchdown. On the night, Kentucky rushed for 303 yards on 41 carries.
“We were the more physical team,” said UK Coach Mark Stoops afterward.
So it was not a big surprise when Stoops announced in the post-game press conference he had given the game ball to John Schlarman, the offensive line coach and former UK offensive tackle who is battling cancer. It was Schlarman’s O-line which paved the way for Snell and Wilson to do their thing while the Cats controlled the line of scrimmage, averaging 7.4 yards per rush.
“I might take those guys out to dinner,” said Wilson, who wasn’t sacked all night.
You can make a strong case that Kentucky was the better team each of the last two years. After all, the Cats let a 27-14 lead slip away last year as Florida escaped Kroger Field with a 28-27 victory thanks in part to a couple of missed assignments on defense.
There was no giving away the lead this night. Kentucky went up 21-10 with 4:11 left in the third quarter. Florida scored with 3:43 left to cut the lead to 21-16, but this time it was the Gators who missed an open receiver, quarterback Feliepe Franks failing to see his teammate in the right corner of the end zone on the two-point conversion. Franks threw an incompletion to the left side instead.
UK took over at its own 25 and proceeded to run 3:14 off the clock. Snell’s 20-yard run on third-and-one was the key play. When Florida got the ball back with 29 seconds left the Gators were out of time and ultimately out of luck. On the game’s final play, Franks was hit while trying to pass. The play was ruled a fumble with Davonte Robinson picking up the loose ball and running it into the end zone for the final 27-16 margin.
“Our fan base,” said Stoops, “has waited a long time for this.”
2. Touchdown Terry is a difference-maker
That’s what the UK staff was hoping for when it recruited Terry Wilson out of junior college. The quarterback out of Oklahoma had signed with Oregon out of high school, only to be pushed down the depth chart and opt for an alternate route to Division I football.
Saturday in The Swamp was his first road start, perhaps not the setting – not to mention your program’s 31-year losing streak to the host school – you’d want for your road debut. And after turning it over three times in the season opener last week at Kroger Field, Wilson turned it over twice more in the first half Saturday. He lost a fumble, his second of the young season. And he threw an interception, his third of the young season.
If Wilson is high-risk/high-reward, however, the rewards ended up outnumbering the risks. He finished with 105 yards rushing on just 10 carries. And he completed 11 of 16 passes for 151 yards and a pair of scores. Those stats, by the way, don’t really do his impact justice.
In the first half, Wilson extended a play and then hit a streaking David Bouvier, who had executed a double move on a Florida defensive back, for a 29-yard touchdown pass and the game’s first score with 5:07 left in the first quarter.
In the second half, his team up 14-10, Wilson moved around in the pocket long enough to unleash a perfect 54-yard strike to Lynn Bowden for a touchdown with 4:11 left in the third quarter to give the visitors some separation.
I remember one of UK’s former defensive coordinators saying this once about a dangerous quarterback on the opposition: “When he does something, you know a band is going to be playing either way.”
The UK band was inside The Swamp and they were playing at the end of the game, celebrating UK’s first win at Florida since 1979. The band could have also been celebrating that the Cats look like they have a true difference-maker at quarterback.
3. One negative streak down, plenty more to go.
This was a big game. No doubt. As Stoops said afterward, “Our fan base has waited for this for a long time.” Thirty-one years is a long time. UK had not beaten Florida since 1986. It had lost 19 straight trips to Gainesville. Turning that clock from 31 to zero is a big deal.
But other big deals lie ahead. UK hasn’t had a winning SEC record since 1977. Obviously, this is not a vintage Florida team. New coach Dan Mullen will get the Gators going, but it may take some time. To get over that SEC hump, however, surely the Cats had to beat the Gators. For the past 31 years, one of its SEC losses was always to Florida.
Next up is FCS member Murray State at Kroger Field. After that, however, Kentucky has back-to-back home games against Mississippi State and South Carolina, key games both. Mississippi State looked like the real deal Saturday with its win over Kansas State in Manhattan. South Carolina was not up to the task of beating No. 3 Georgia at home. Will Muschamp’s Gamecocks were smashed 41-17.
Still, with 17 starters back, and a difference-maker at quarterback, this looks like Mark Stoops’ best team and his best chance at making some noise inside the league. Two games don’t make a season. But 2-0 overall and 1-0 in the league is a good start.
“We’re a bunch of dogs,” said outside linebacker Josh Allen, which is an ultimate compliment. “We have the mindset to be great and we want it. We’re hungry for it.”
Kentucky football 2018