Florida vs. Kentucky score, takeways: No. 20 Wildcats dominate second half to swamp No. 12 Gators

Florida vs. Kentucky score, takeways: No. 20 Wildcats dominate second half to swamp No. 12 Gators

Nearly a touchdown underdog entering The Swamp on Saturday night, No. 20 Kentucky shut out No. 12 Florida in the second half to pull off a 26-16 win and continue a wild day of upsets across college football. While neither of the game’s star quarterbacks were notably efficient, Gators phenom Anthony Richardson was notably poor as the Wildcats defense rattled him all night to win consecutive games over their SEC East rivals for the first time since 1976-77.

The win over Florida also makes Mark Stoops the winningest coach in Kentucky history with 61 victories, one more than the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant. The ‘Cats have now won three of their last five meetings against the Gators after losing the prior 31 games in the rivalry. 

Kentucky trailed 16-7 after recording a safety by botching a snap on a punt late in the second quarter, but the visitors were able to rattle off the final 19 points of the game, including a 65-yard pick six by Keidron Smith with 3:25 left in the third quarter and 26-yard field goal from Matt Ruffolo with 1:24 remaining. 

The UK defense gave up just 91 yards to the UF in the second half, much of which came in garbage time in the final possession of the game, in one of the most impressive such performances during the Stoops era.

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis hooked up with Dane Key for a 55-yard touchdown to take a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, but Florida scored the next 13 points including an 11-yard touchdown run and 2-point conversion reception by Trevor Etienne.

The ‘Cats rushing attack, which was largely stagnant in the first half, cranked things up in the latter period behind Kavosiey Smoke and La’Vell Wright, wearing down a Florida defense that struggled with the physicality of its offensive line. It was the first time the Gators was shut out in the second half of the game since 2017 against Michigan.

Richardson entered the game with Heisman Trophy and NFL hype after engineering a thrilling victory over then-No. 7 Utah last week, but he struggled mightily Saturday. Richardson finished 14 of 35 for 143 yards with two interceptions and only 4 rushing yards. He has yet to throw a touchdown in either game this season.

What are the biggest takeaways from Saturday night’s SEC East battle in Gainesville? Let’s break them down. 

Kentucky knows its identity

Stoops didn’t become the winningest coach in program history by accident. He did it by establishing the identity of Kentucky football in his own image — a smashmouth, old-school team that pounds opponents at the line of scrimmage and capitalizes in the second half. This game was a perfect encapsulation of that identity. 

Florida had just 13 rushing yards in the second half, converted just two of its eight chances on third down, one of three on fourth down and had just 2.9 yards per play. What’s more, Kentucky held Florida without a chunk play — passes of 15 or more yards and rushes of 10 or more yards — in the fourth quarter. That’s the calling card of a well-coached, fundamentally sound defense. 

We don’t know what Kentucky’s offense is capable of. Levis didn’t have a great day through the air and struggled to consistently move things on the ground. That makes its ceiling a mystery. What we do know is that its floor is incredibly high because of a mentality that is established from the moment Stoops welcomes players on campus. 

Anthony Richardson has a lot of work to do

Richardson’s week-long hype was due in large part to his 106 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns on the ground. However, he had a relatively average day through the air with 168 yards and an average of 7.0 yards per attempt. He wasn’t at full strength on Saturday, which played into his lack of production on the ground, but Kentucky made him one-dimensional and he couldn’t come through.

Simply put, the hype was too much, too soon for the redshirt sophomore from Gainesville, Florida. That’s not to say that he can’t fix the glitch. But he was used primarily as a changeup on the ground last year behind Emory Jones, and that inexperience showed against Kentucky.

It’s more than ‘just one game’

Kentucky has Youngstown State and Northern Illinois up on the schedule before a showdown with Ole Miss in Oxford. That is looking like it’ll be a matchup between top-15 teams in a game that can not only vault the winner into “contender” status within the division but also as a legit threat to the national title. 

Kentucky has two games to work on its offense and, perhaps more importantly, get Chris Rodriguez Jr. back to lead Smoke and the rest of the running back corps. If they can consistently establish the run — something that didn’t happen until the second half on Saturday — Levis’ job will be much easier and transform the Wildcats into a complete football team.


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