Forget the streak, Florida needed this one for the soul


Florida head coach Will Muschamp celebrates with running back Matt Jones, left, defensive back Brian Poole and defensive back Vernon Hargreave III after the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday in Lexington, Ky. Florida defeated Kentucky, 24-7.

Matt Stamey/Staff photographer
Published: Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 11:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, September 28, 2013 at 11:43 p.m.

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Dante Fowler Jr. emerged from the Florida locker room carrying the doll like a mother with a baby on her hip. It was Dominique Easley's Chucky doll, and if his fallen teammate couldn't be here at least Chucky made it.

Fowler helped Florida cap an emotional eight days with a pair of sacks that thwarted any dreams Kentucky had of ending an almost unexplainable streak.

That's 27 in a row and counting over the Wildcats, and while there have been more exciting and more impressive wins over the Wildcats, there may not have been any more important.

Florida needed this not just because of the SEC East or national rankings or bowl aspirations.

Florida needed this win for its soul.

“It was an extremely tough week,” said receiver Trey Burton, who caught a touchdown pass and five others. “It would have made it much worse if we had come out with a loss. We knew we had to take care of business and get a win for those guys.”

Every team loses players to injuries, and any team that loses its quarterback is going to deal with the consequences. But when the news came down Wednesday that Easley was out for the season, that was a blow to the gut that wouldn't stop hurting.

“It was very emotional losing 'Eas',” Fowler said. “Especially in practice. I was right there when it happened.

“We had to come together. We played mad.”

That's why this was about the intangibles as much as it was the tangible rewards that come with an SEC victory. This was no gimme — even against Kentucky — with a quarterback starting for the first time ever and a revved up crowd hoping they could one day tell their kids about the time they saw The Streak come to an end.

When the smoke from the fireworks cleared and the music quieted down (usually just before the snap), Florida produced a workman-like 24-7 win. If you're seeking the kind of crazy offensive games we're seeing in the SEC right now, you're following the wrong team.

This team is still going to win with defense and the running game, and when the going gets tough it's in those two areas where you find out how tough your team can be.

Sure, Muschamp may need a road map to find the jugular, but Saturday night wasn't about statistics or style points. It was about winning a football game, not letting them play that irritating “Air Raid” siren, getting on the plane and going home.

“It has been a long week for us,” Muschamp said.

But he made his message to his troops an emphatic one. There are no excuses. Sure, it has been rough. But there are no excuses.

Fortunately for the Gators, Tyler Murphy continued to look like the second coming of Charlie Ward. He threw for 156 yards and ran for 36. He threw for one score on a bullet pass to Burton and picked up another on a five-yard run.

The Murph 'n' Turf offense was working to perfection in the first half, which took about as long as a sitcom because of the number of running plays (20 by Florida), first downs (19 by the two teams) and lack of turnovers (zero).

Murphy completed his first 13 passes, but then made things interesting when he completed one to the wrong team.

“We had a rub route and the guy missed his rub, so that's not on Tyler,” Muschamp said.

So you can breathe again Gator fans, he's still fabulicious.

It was after that interception Murphy made his best play of the night by running down linebacker Josh Forrest when you were already adding up seven and seven in your head. Coupled with another big-time play by Vernon Hargreaves III (as in three interceptions for the season) kept Kentucky from making things interesting in the second half.

“I made a bad decision,” Murphy said. “It was a big tackle for me.”

Big for everyone who made the trip or was watching at home. It has been a rough couple of weeks for the Gator Nation, which has questioned everything from its coaches to the pregame meals.

And, as usual, Florida beat Kentucky.

Didn't everyone need a little normal?

Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at dooleyp@gvillesun.com. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.

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