Finally, after all these years, the Kentucky Wildcats have found the secret to ending Florida’s long winning secret.
And, as it turns out, it’s no secret at all: Simply put a better team on the field than the Gators.
That’s what the Wildcats did Saturday night in The Swamp, and the result was an impressive and historic 27-16 victory that brings an end to the Gators’ 31-game winning streak in the series.
The difference this time?
The Wildcats were simply better.
Better on both lines of scrimmage. Better at quarterback. Way better at running back. Better in coaching. Better in all phases.
“It ended,” UF coach Dan Mullen said of the streak. “The streak had nothing to do with tonight’s game and it has nothing to do with next week’s game. That’s what happens in sports.
“It’s a tough loss for us. We have to find a way to get better and play next week. That’s where all my thoughts are.”
While it was a grim night for the Gators, it was a glorious one for the ’Cats.
“It is hard to describe the feeling that I’m feeling right now,” UK coach Mark Stoops said. “Just feel so blessed to be the head coach here and to get that victory for truly everybody, most importantly for our players. I told them at halftime and before the game that we were going to win this game in a team effort because they love, trust and believe in each other.”
The final stats are telling.
The Wildcats outgained the Gators 454 yards to 360 and out-rushed them 303-128. And the UF defense missed dozens of tackles that led to some big gains and helped keep the ball away from the Gators’ offense.
“You look at those (stats), and the outcome usually is not a big surprise in football,” Mullen said.
So, there was nothing flukey about this streak-snapping victory.
The ’Cats outplayed the Gators.
Mullen said it’s a tough loss, but one that doesn’t necessarily define the season or the state of the program.
“We’ll see as the season goes on,” Mullen said. “One game never defines anything. That’s one game in a long season.
“Much more importantly to me is not where our attitude is right at this very second, it’s where our attitude is going to be Monday when we show up to get ready for next week’s game.
“I’ll have a better idea at that point where we might be as a program.”
Despite being dominated on both sides of the ball for three-and-a-half quarters, the Gators still made a game of it in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, making Wildcat fans everywhere probably a little nervous.
Trailing 21-10 and seemingly out of it, the Gators managed to put a touchdown 99-yard drive together despite heavy pressure on quarterback Feleipe Franks. Franks converted a fourth-and-eight.
Two plays later, Franks threw a 4-yard TD pass to Freddie Swain to make it a one-score game 21-16.
The Gators had a chance to draw within a field goal with a two-point conversion, but Franks failed to see a wide open Malik Davis in the right corner of the end zone and threw into coverage to the left for an incompletion.
UF did not see the ball again until there were only 40 seconds left in the game and pinned on its own 6-yard line.
On what turned out to be the final play, Franks fumbled attempting to pass and the Wildcats returned it for a touchdown to put the exclamation on their historic win. Kentucky hadn’t beaten Florida since 1986 and hadn’t won in Gainesville since 1979.
Franks completed 17 of 38 passes for 232 yards and two touchdowns. He also had an interception.
“I never felt (he was rattled),” Mullen said. “He didn’t make many bad reads. It (his decision-making) needs to be a little quicker.”
The Florida defense had no answer for the Wildcats’ two big play-makers — dual-threat quarterback Terry Wilson and running back Benny Snell Jr.
The Gators had problems even laying a hand on the fast and elusive Wilson. They got their hands on Snell plenty of times, but then struggled to get him on the ground.
Wilson beat the Gators with both his arm and his legs. His 54-yard TD strike to Lynn Bowden late the third quarter was a dagger. It came on a third-and-16 play where he scrambled out of the pocket, rolled to his right and found Bowden behind the secondary to give the Wildcats a 21-10 lead.
Wilson threw for 151 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 105 yards on 10 carries.
When Wilson wasn’t befuddling the Gators, Snell was shoving the ball down their throats. He gained 175 yards on 27 carries and broke too tackles to count.
While the UK offense went up and down the field, it was a game-long struggle for the Gators.
Senior offensive tackle Martez Ivey said this was a game that was lost in practice last week.
“It starts in practice, “ he said. “You play how you practice. We didn’t compete the way we should have. How hard we practice this week will define what type of team we are.
“We’ve got to go harder than we have been. We’ve got to practice harder. We’ve got to stay together as a team. This loss won’t define us. We’re going to come back and regroup Monday and have a great week of practice and get ready for Colorado State.”
Who: Colorado State (1-2) vs. No. 25 Florida (1-1)
When: 4 p.m. Saturday
Where: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850