GATORS SWAMPED: No. 20 Kentucky defeats No. 12 Florida 26-16 in Gainesville

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Jack Weaver

Kentucky Wildcats linebacker J.J. Weaver (13) rushes Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) during the No. 20 Kentucky vs. No. 12 Florida football game on Saturday, Sept. 10, 2022, on Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. UK won 26-16. Photo by Jack Weaver | Kentucky Kernel

Cole Parke, Sports Editor

No. 20 Kentucky (2-0) defeated No. 12 Florida (1-1) 26-16 in Gainesville on Saturday, marking the first time since the 1975-1976 seasons that the Wildcats have defeated the Gators in back-to-back seasons.

The win was also special for Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops, who secured his 61st win at the helm of the Wildcats, surpassing hall of famer Bear Bryant as the winningest UK coach in program history.

The game was ultimately decided by Kentucky’s defense who held strong to shut Florida down on back-to-back fourth down attempts in the fourth quarter, the latter of which led to UK’s field goal to put the Cats up by two scores.

Stoops said after the game that he expected the fourth down attempts, leading the coach to drill it into the defense’s heads in practice.

“No, [I wasn’t surprised to defend two straight fourth downs],” Stoops said. “It’s been [Florida head coach Billy Napier]’s M.O. recently. It was one of my points with [the players] in our pregame talk today that they had to defend third and fourth downs.”

The defense came through in other regards as well, holding Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson to just four rushing yards, one week after the sophomore put up 106 yards on Utah in week one.

“We had a really good game plan,” Stoops said. “The guys were playing hard. I don’t think they had a first down the whole second half, maybe one at the very end off the [tipped pass]. I didn’t really put any statistics on [suppressing Richardson], but we felt like we could play good defense.”

After keeping a clean sheet against the Utes, Richardson also gave up two interceptions to Kentucky, one of which was taken 65 yards back to the endzone for a touchdown by Kentucky defensive back Keidron Smith.

“They’re the MVPs of the game,” Kentucky quarterback Will Levis said about the defense. “I think coach [Brad] White did such a great job preparing them in taking away the run and the pass and making them think on their toes and not really giving them much at all. Defense deserves all the credit in the world, they won this game for us plain and simple.”

As for the offensive side of the ball Kentucky was a bit lacking in the first half, finishing the half with negative 37 rushing yards.

Where it lacked on the ground it made up for in the air though, as Levis recorded 155 passing yards in the first half including a 55-yard touchdown pass to freshman Dane Key in the second quarter.

Trailing 3-0 after the first quarter, Kentucky scored 13 points in the second with Levis rushing one yard for a second touchdown before the end of the half.

Despite finally being able to break through on offense, the Wildcats allowed a touchdown in the same quarter.

The woes would not stop there either as a standard punt attempt saw the snap fly high over punter Collin Goodellow’s head and all the way to the UK end zone where he promptly kicked it out of the back, surrendering a safety but preventing a touchdown.

“We haven’t had any snap problems in a long time,” Stoops said after the game. “We gotta get that fixed, but the special teams miscues are pretty easily fixable. I’m really proud of our football team and proud of our coaches.”

Leading 16-13 at the half, it’s unlikely the Florida faithful in the stands knew the safety would be the last points their team would earn on the night.

Both teams would punt on their first drives of the second half, but Kentucky was able to tie the game on its second drive with a field goal.

Florida regained possession after the scoring drive and looked to regain the lead, but Kentucky had other plans as Smith recorded his pick-six to give Kentucky a lead it would never relinquish.

“Coach White is probably one of the best defensive coaches I’ve been around,” Kentucky offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello said. “I think you combine that with guys who play complimentary football and that’s why Kentucky has won a lot of games and I feel like we’re going to win every close game. It’s a mentality that has been ingrained in the foundation here and it’s a credit to playing complimentary football which is kind of a lost thing in college football.”

With time running out for the Gators it was time for Kentucky’s pivotal fourth down stops and game-clinching field goal before Richardson’s Hail Mary fell uncaught in the end zone, putting the final nail in the coffin with Kentucky on top.

The win was not without loss for Kentucky however, as defensive back Jalen Geiger was carted off the field with a leg injury.

Stoops declined an official status update on Geiger but said he would comment on when he can be expected to be back, saying the situation “doesn’t look good.”

Apart from just playing for an injured teammate, the game was also personal to Kentucky for other reasons as SEC analyst Roman Harper called the team “soft” on the Paul Finebaum Show.

Many at Kentucky were quick to respond after the win with the likes of Levis and outside linebacker Jordan Wright referencing the comments as motivation to beat Florida.

Stoops also commented on the matter, though in a more political way than his players.

“I don’t even want to make comments that will get thrown back in my face tenfold, but I know one thing we’re not is soft,” Stoops said. “I think you can all understand that. We may be a lot of things, but we’re not that.”

With the win Kentucky can expect to jump in the rankings heading into its week three matchup with FCS Youngstown State, the hometown college of both Stoops and associate head coach Vince Marrow.

Kentucky and Youngstown State are currently slated to kick off at noon on Saturday, Sept. 17, in Kroger Field with the game airing live on the SEC Network.