Final: No. 1 Gators Take Down Kentucky, 41-7
The top-ranked Gator football team improved to 4-0 overall and 2-0 in the Southeastern Conference with a 41-7 victory at Kentucky on Saturday evening at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. The Gators were sparked by a record-breaking first quarter, in which they jumped out to a 31-0 lead, amassing 223 yards of total offense, compared to Kentucky’s -1 yard.
The Gators were led by senior quarterback Tim Tebow (St. Augustine, Fla.), who finished the night five-of-10 for 103 yards and one touchdown pass. Tebow surpassed his previous season-high rushing yardage mark in the first quarter against UK, tallying 79 yards. He finished the game with 123 yards on 16 carries with two touchdowns, marking the first 100-yard rushing performance by any Gator this season. His two rushing scores, the 47th and 48th of his career, propelled him to own sole custody of second place in the SEC record book for all-time rushing touchdowns.
The Gator offense went right to work, scoring on their first five drives, while the Gator defense forced Kentucky to three-and-out situations in the first five possessions.
After two rushing plays for short yardage and a third-and-five from Florida’s 34-yard line, Tebow carried the ball 29 yards for the first down, matching a career-long rush. Sophomore Jeff Demps (Winter Garden, Fla.) continued the drive with back-to-back first-down rushes of 17 and 14 yards, respectively, to put the Gators at first-and-goal. The Orange and Blue was forced to settle for three after kicker Caleb Sturgis (St. Augustine, Fla.) connected on a 22-yard field goal to give Florida an early 3-0 lead with 11:13 remaining in the first quarter.
Florida began its second drive of the game with excellent field position, starting on Kentucky’s 36-yard line, after forcing the Wildcats to punt from their own end zone. The Florida defense held the Wildcats to a quick three-and-out, led by junior Joe Haden (Ft. Washington, Md.), who sacked quarterback Mike Hartline for a loss of nine yards. Prior to this game, Kentucky led the SEC with fewest quarterback sacks allowed, with zero. The Gators were able to capitalize on the field position, tacking on seven points off a three-yard quarterback keeper by Tebow to give Florida a 10-0 advantage with 7:11 to play in the first quarter. The score marked Tebow’s 47th career-rushing score, propelling him to second place in the SEC record book.
A little over one minute later, it was the Gators’ special teams’ time to shine as redshirt sophomore Chris Rainey (Lakeland, Fla.) blocked Ryan Tydlacka’s punt and recovered the ball in the end zone to extend the lead in favor of UF, 17-0. The block marked both the first in 2009 and the first of Rainey’s career. The Gators have scored four touchdowns on blocked kicks under head coach Urban Meyer.
On the following possession, Tebow led the Gators on a six-play, 58-yard scoring drive, capped by a two-yard rush with 2:35 to play in the opening quarter. The drive, which spanned 2:34, was highlighted by an 18-yard reception by redshirt junior Emmanuel Moody (Coppell, Texas) and a 13-yard grab by redshirt senior David Nelson (Wichita Falls, Texas).
Florida put an exclamation point on an explosive first quarter with a 44-yard touchdown reception by junior Aaron Hernandez (Bristol, Conn.) in the closing seconds. A successful point-after attempt by Sturgis put the Gators up 31-0, marking the most points scored in the opening frame under Meyer.
The Gator defense held the Wildcats without a first down until 8:48 remaining in the first half, but the Wildcats went on to collect three more first downs on their 14-play, 58-yard scoring drive, capped by a two-yard reception on fourth-and-goal by Ross Boque. The Wildcats cut into Florida’s lead, 31-7, to close the scoring for the first half.
Florida got its first points of the second half off a 32-yard field goal by Sturgis with 3:49 remaining in the third quarter to give Florida a 34-7 advantage.
A fumbled snap by quarterback John Brantley (Ocala, Fla.) with 12 minutes remaining in the game gave the Wildcats possession at their own 27-yard line, however they failed to capitalize on the turnover and were forced to punt. The teams traded turnovers as junior Major Wright (Miramar, Fla.) intercepted a Hartline pass and returned the ball 31 yards to give the Gators possession at the Kentucky eight-yard line. Brantley needed only one play to connect with senior Riley Cooper (Clearwater, Fla.) on an eight-yard touchdown pass to give the Gators a 41-7 lead and cap off the scoring with 6:39 remaining in the final stanza.
Kentucky’s Hartline finished the game 14-for-30 for 92 yards and one touchdown. The Wildcats were also led by Derrick Locke who tallied 37 yards on 14 carries and Chris Matthews who had three receptions for 28 yards.
The Gators return to action on Oct. 10 as they travel to Baton Rouge to face the LSU Tigers.