Takeaways: No. 23 Kentucky Wildcats stop No. 9 Florida Gators

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
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In the team’s last trip to Kentucky, Kyle Trask led the Gators to their 16th straight win in Lexington after trailing 21-10. 

Emory Jones was faced with a similar deficit Saturday, 20-10, after UK scored off a blocked kick and a Jones interception. 

Jones responded to the pick with a 13-play, 59-yard scoring drive, but Florida was forced to settle for three points after a false start negated his fourth-and-2 conversion. UF’s defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing series and set the stage for a potential game-tying drive.

The No. 9 Gators reached the red zone again, but were flagged for two more false starts and Jones’ fourth-down pass was broken up in the end zone with 18 seconds left. 

The No. 23 Wildcats’ 20-13 victory is their second over UF in four years and first at home since 1986. 

"You're not gonna make all the mistakes we made in the course of a game and expect to win," Florida coach Dan Mullen said. "You're not gonna win in the SEC doing that."

Momentum flip:Kentucky appeared angry, Florida ready to take over. Then the Wildcats blocked a field goal and it all changed.

Here are three takeaways from the game:

Penalties problematic for UF

Playing on the road in a sold-out stadium for the first time in two years, the Gators (3-2, 1-2 SEC)  did not handle the crowd noise well at Kroger Field. 

Florida was flagged 15 times for 115 yards, the most penalties on UF since 2017 against Georgia. More than half of those flags were false starts, including the three fourth-quarter calls in the red zone. 

"The penalties weren't little like, ticky-tack things," Mullen said. "You're talking taking third downs off the board, backing us up, taking conversions, taking first-down runs off the board with holding penalties, those were the issues." 

Florida had six false-start penalties on third or fourth down and eight total. The offensive line was called for holding twice in the second half, the former erasing a 10-yard run by Dameon Pierce on third-and-3. 

"I'll get with (offensive line coach) John Hevesy, and we gotta get better," Mullen said. "That's something we're gonna look at with a problem. But, give their crowd credit. They had a great crowd, they had a lot of energy, their guys played hard. But, you can't do that. That's a lack of mental toughness."

The Gators also had a false start on a 46-yard field by Jace Christmann, but he was able to connect from 51, tying his career long. Kentucky (5-0, 3-0) was penalized just four times for 30 yards. 

Emory Jones sharp early, throws late pick

In his first career SEC road start, Jones had a second-half drop-off after playing well in the game’s first 30 minutes. 

Jones’ seven-yard touchdown pass to Ja’Quavian Fraziars gave the Gators a 7-0 lead, and he finished the first half with 101 yards and a touchdown on 10 of 11 passing. That included first-down completions to Trent Whittemore (18 yards, nine yards), Xzavier Henderson (22 yards) and Nay’Quan Wright, who made a diving 16-yard catch on third-and-4 from the 50 to set up Christmann's 51-yarder.   

Jones had 102 yards passing in the second half, marking his second consecutive 200-yard performance, but threw a costly interception and couldn’t find the end zone after the first quarter. 

"I thought he got us in the right checks, made the right calls, distributed the ball around, threw it well," Mullen said of Jones. "We just didn’t finish off. We needed to finish off the drives. ... We got the ball in the red zone. We have got to score touchdowns when we get down there.”

Jones finished with 203 yards on 23 of 31 passing and rushed for a team-high 63 yards on 13 carries. Kentucky’s Will Levis completed just seven of his 17 pass attempts for 87 yards, a touchdown and an interception. 

Despite winning the rushing battle, 171-137, and outgaining UK by 158 total yards, the Gators scored their fewest points of the Mullen era. 

"We had 382. They had 211 yards," Mullen said. "I think we got to really look at the penalties that we have and how to get ourselves in a better situation that way. I got to a better job coaching up the PAT field-goal group.

"They’re a physical group. We outrushed them. We out-passed. We out-total gained them. The time of possession, we were better on third downs. ... The mental errors were just, you can't do that and expect to win a game making that many mental errors."

Anthony Richardson ineffective in return

Florida backup quarterback Anthony Richardson made his much-anticipated return Saturday night after missing the past two weeks with a hamstring injury. 

Richardson checked into the game on UF’s touchdown drive and rushed for 11 yards, but Jones came back in on the next play. Richardson received several snaps on the field-goal drive before the half, carrying the ball three times for 15 yards.

Mullen went back to him on the second series of the third quarter and Richardson was stuffed for a one-yard loss, finishing with five carries for 25 yards and completing his lone pass attempt for eight yards.

After UK and UF traded penalties, Jones scrambled for three yards on third-and-13. Christmann's 48-yard field goal attempt was then blocked and returned for a 76-yard touchdown.

"We just fall, let their guys run clean up the middle on a field goal block. Pretty easy," Mullen said. "You can't have a blocked kick. That was seven points. That's a 10-point swing right there. That's a big, big deal, so we gotta get that fixed."

Florida running back Dameon Pierce picks up yardage Saturday against Kentucky in Lexington, Ky.

Up next

Who: Vanderbilt vs. Florida

When: 12 p.m. Saturday

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Online: Click to Gatorsports.com for more coverage of Saturday night's game

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