Florida may have found more than just a way to win in the fourth quarter Saturday night in Lexington. The Gators also may have found their offensive identity. And their quarterback.
Led by former starting quarterback Luke Del Rio and a balanced offense that included a power running game, the Gators rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to beat Kentucky 28-27 to move to 2-0 in the SEC and extend UF’s winning streak against the Wildcats to 31 games — the longest active winning streak over a major opponent in an annual series.
Although Del Rio appeared to have possibly taken away the starting role at quarterback from redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks, who was benched midway through the third quarter, UF coach Jim McElwain said the situation at quarterback would be evaluated during the week.
Who: Vanderbilt (3-1, 0-1 SEC) vs. No. 21 Florida (2-1, 2-0)
When: Noon Saturday
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
“We will sit down and evaluate it and look at the video,” he said. “Luke threw it to the wrong color jersey once and missed it to Tyrie (Cleveland). It would have been a home run, but I thought he moved around. I thought that fourth-down play (a 10-yard pass to running back Mark Thompson), obviously it was a veteran move.
“They had good coverage on him. You know, he found the mark. That
was a good play. It’s one of those that you never throw across your body late inside, right? But it worked.”
Del Rio’s entrance into the game did seem to spark an offense that had ground to a halt earlier in the third quarter, with back-to-back three-and-outs to open the second half.
After throwing an interception on his first possession, Del Rio settled down and the offense put together two touchdown drives to pull out the victory. The winning TD came on a five-yard pass from Del Rio to a wide open Freddie Swain with 43 seconds remaining.
Del Rio benefited from a steady power running game in the fourth quarter that took some of the pressure off the passing game and kept the UK defense off balance.
“I think we hopefully gained a little confidence up front,” McElwain said. “I was proud of the last drive that we didn’t go to thinking we had to throw it every down.”
In the decisive fourth quarter, the Gators rode true freshman running back Malik Davis, who finished the game with 93 yards on 21 carries.
On the winning drive, the Gators converted two fourth-down plays, one on the 10-yard pass from Del Rio to Thompson and the other on a seven-yard run by Davis on a fourth-and-one.
McElwain was asked if Del Rio, with his experience and knowledge of the offense, gets more of the playbook to run than Franks, who seemed limited to short passes and screens in Saturday’s game.
“I think, again, continuing to get some of these guys touches has got to be big,” he said. “I think B.P. (Brandon Powell) came up big when we needed him. Obviously, Kadarius (Toney), you know, bit-by-bit, getting a little bit more and more where he stays comfortable. Tyrie came up big. I really thought Freddie Swain did some stuff that didn’t show up in the box score that, guys, I’ll be surprised that he’s not our player of the game.”
Del Rio, who appeared very poised for someone who had not played in a game since last Nov. 5, and the offense seemed to gel when they needed to most, in the decisive fourth quarter.
Del Rio definitely helped generate a spark.
“When you get put in in the middle of a game, it’s fun to go in and play, but it’s not easy because everyone else is kind of in the rhythm of the game,” Del Rio said. “So I tried to settle down as best as I could, move the ball,
which was encouraging. The pick was just a miscommunication on my part.
“It’s a long game. I knew we could move the ball on them. It wasn’t like we were going three-and-out, three-and-out.”
Notes: Florida owns a 51-17 record against Kentucky, its most wins against any opponent. The Gators have won 15 games in a row in Lexington. The Gators have outrushed the Wildcats in each contest since 2004. …The Gators fell a spot in the latest Associated Press poll.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com