Notebook: Stewart’s return pays early dividends

Florida tight end Kyle Pitts (84) tries to get around Kentucky defensive back Jamari Brown (32) during the first half Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Lexington, Ky. [Timothy D. Easley/The Associated Press]

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Junior Florida safety Brad Stewart, who was suspended for the first two games of the season, was cleared to play and started Saturday night’s game.

His presence was felt on UK’s first offensive possession, when he recovered a fumble on the Wildcats 31-yard line. The turnover set up the Gators’ first score, which came on a 15-yard pass from Feleipe Franks to Freddie Swain.

There were no player suspensions for the Gators for Saturday’s game.

Dean starts at corner

There was speculation all week about who might start at cornerback in place of injured starter CJ Henderson. Many were expecting one of the three true freshmen — Kaiir Elam, Chester Kimbrough or Jaydon Hill — to get the call.

Instead, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham elected to move starting nickel Trey Dean back to cornerback, the position where he started nine games as a true freshman last season.

The Gators opened the game without a nickel. Hoping to slow down UK’s power downhill running game, UF started both rush ends Jon Greenard and Jeremiah Moon instead of going with five defensive backs. Greenard played rush end, while Moon opened the game at outside linebacker.

Elam didn’t start, but saw extensive playing time the rest of the night.

Game ejections

Kentucky safety Yusuf Corker’s night did not last long. He was ejected in the first quarter when he was penalized for targeting on a hit on UF wide receiver Trevon Grimes in the end zone.

Two plays later, Franks found a wide-open Swain for the touchdown.

Florida safety Donovan Stiner was ejected in the third quarter for targeting.

UK defensive lineman T.J. Carter was ejected for targeting on a hit on Trask in the fourth quarter.

Turnovers strike again

As usual, one of UF’s priorities coming into the game was to take care of the ball on offense. The Gators failed to do that in the first half.

Franks, who had three turnovers in the opener and none in last week’s win over UT Martin, had a rough go of it, throwing an interception in the first quarter and then losing a fumble in the second after getting blindsided in the pocket.

The lost fumble came on first down, right after Franks had hooked up with Van Jefferson for a 31-yard pass play down to the UK 44.

Fired up by the sudden change, the Wildcats drove for a touchdown that put the Gators in a 14-7 hole.

That’s five turnovers on the season for Franks and six for the Gators, who were plus-12 in turnover margin last season.

Flag on the play(s)

Franks had two touchdown runs called back by holding penalties in the first half.

His 5-yard score in the first quarter was negated by holding on true freshman tight end Keon Zipperer. His second, on a 21-yard scramble in the second quarter, came back thanks to right offensive tackle Jean Delance’s infraction.

‘Cats have his number

When it comes to usually reliable place-kicker Evan McPherson, there’s something about Kentucky that apparently just doesn’t feel right.

For the second year in a row, he missed a field goal against the Wildcats. And this one was a chip shot from just 27 yards late in the first half.

In his UF career, the sophomore has missed on three field-goal attempts in 20 attempts, and two have come against the ‘Cats.

This and that

Starting defensive end Jabari Zuniga left the game with an apparent right foot injury in the first quarter and did not return in the first half. The injury came on the play where Stewart recovered a UK fumble. .. There’s a lot of Florida flavor on the UK roster. The Wildcats have 18 players from the Sunshine State. The only states with more are Kentucky and Ohio, who both have 23. … Going into Saturday night’s game, the Wildcats were 12-3 over their last 15 games and riding a five-game winning streak. … UK wide receiver Lynn Bowden Jr.’s catch late in the first half was the 100th of his career. He is the 17th Wildcat in school history to reach the century mark in receptions.