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Florida gets started late, hands struggling Cats 34-10 loss

Once Florida got started, they were hard to stop.

The sixth-ranked Gators used a punt return to close out the first half that led to 27 unanswered points in a 34-10 win over Kentucky in Gainesville on Saturday.

Coming off an embarrassing 63-3 loss to top-ranked Alabama last week, the Wildcats (3-6) held Florida in check for most of the first half and led 10-7 late in the second quarter. A botched punt returned for a touchdown late in the second quarter gave the Gators the boost they needed to defeat the Wildcats for a second straight season and 33rd time in the last 34 attempts.

“It was a tough loss,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We tried to play extremely hard, we didn’t execute good enough, didn’t coach good enough, and (just) a tough loss. I thought we did some good things in certain areas, but athletically in certain areas, they stood out (with) very good players that are difference- makers and can create explosive plays at any time and you saw that today.”

The Wildcats were without 16 players because of COVID-19 and injuries, which has taken its toll on Kentucky late in the season. A total of 10 players missed last week’s disastrous outing at Alabama, including running back Chris Rodriguez, who also missed Saturday’s game.

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask was nearly unstoppable and threw for 256 yards and three touchdowns, all of which were caught by receiver Kyle Pitts. He hauled in five passes for 99 yards as the Gators (9-1) collected 418 yards of offense, including 243 yards in the second half.

“Kyle (Pitts) becomes a matchup problem for a lot of people,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “Sometimes he’s hard to leave one-on-one. When they left him one-one, Kyle Trask took advantage of those matchups…. We were able to get a lead and that gets Kentucky out of their whole game plan of trying to melt the clock and slowing everything down.”

Kentucky finished with 221 yards but collected most of those yards in the first half. The Wildcats managed just 46 total yards in the final two quarters. In addition to offensive issues, Kentucky had eight penalties for 74 yards, including 41 on Florida’s first drive of the second half that led to a touchdown for the Gators to open the second half.

“There’s nothing more aggravating on a defense than when you have a chance for a sack, a no-yard gain, or a loss of yards and you get a 15-yard penalty,” Stoops said. “It just breaks your back.”

Terry Wilson threw for 62 yards and a touchdown strike to Keaton Upshaw in the first half but had two interceptions in the second half. AJ Rose and Kavosiey Smoke combined for 105 yards rushing, including 58 by Rose.

Kentucky forced two fumbles, including one by DeAndre Square that led to the team’s lone touchdown of the contest in the second quarter. Jamin Davis recovered a fumble in the second half. Square and Davis finished with six tackles apiece and Yusuf Corker led the team with eight tackles and a forced fumble.

“I thought we hung in there and got some stops,” Stoops said. “We were playing at a good level for a while, but you have to match them offensively and we were obviously not good enough in the second half, certainly. If you don’t get any first downs and turn the ball over, you’re not going to have a good chance to win.”

Gametracker: South Carolina at Kentucky, Saturday, TBA.

Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at keith.taylor@kentuckytoday.com or Twitter @keithtaylor21.