Florida 14, Kentucky 9, Game Recap: Gators hang on for 29th straight win over Cats

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It’s not too farfetched a concept: as the talent level of the opposition increases, the number of miscues the Gators make increase as well. But for the third straight week, Florida managed to win anyway.

Thanks to touchdown runs by Kelvin Taylor and Will Grier, plus an early Vernon Hargreaves interception that was returned deep into Kentucky territory to set up the aforementioned Grier touchdown run, Florida knocked off Kentucky for the 29th straight time to start the year at 3-0. It didn’t matter that Florida made a myriad of mistakes, which included a bad decision by Grier deep in UK territory which turned into an interception in the end zone, ten penalties and a blown assignment on defense allowing Patrick Towles to run for 33 yards on third and long.

But a similar set of errors probably will matter as the schedule gets tougher.

Let’s start with Grier. He’s the QB I’ve been advocating for since he exploded at the start of fall camp. Some have criticized my calling for Grier by saying he’s not perfect either, to which I responded with this:

And if and when you name Grier the starting quarterback? He’s probably going to make mistakes as all freshmen do. But his ceiling is higher than Harris’ is, and you need to let him go through those growing pains and stick with him. Sometimes trial by fire is how young quarterbacks become great ones, and the more reps he gets in live game action, the quicker and more fully you will see him develop. And whatever mistakes he does make are guaranteed to be cause fewer problems than continuing to rotate two quarterbacks will.

Well, sure enough, Grier finally did make that costly mistake, and it was a pretty bad one at that. He threw the ball into the corner of the end zone where there was no way his receiver could possibly come down with it. It’s damaging enough to throw an interception in the end zone, but it’s particularly crippling when it’s on first and goal. That was a truly awful decision by Grier. So do we bench him for it? No. We let him learn from it. And given his high football IQ and the sensational offensive minds he’s working with, I’m pretty confident that he will.

Then there were the penalties. All ten of them. I can live with the late hits and face masks because those penalties typically result from hustle plays, but multiple false starts and illegal procedures just don’t happen on good teams. That’s 22 of them in the last two weeks, by the way. Gotta clean that up. Of course, easier said than done, but these sorts of things can’t happen if Florida wants to compete for the things they made clear before the season that they should be competing for.

On the bright side, the defense stepped it up after getting gashed against East Carolina and stymied the Wildcats’ offense all night. As expected, the return of Vernon Hargreaves at corner and Keanu Neal at safety did a lot to stifle Kentucky’s Air Raid offense, which produced just 126 yards through the air. There were moments of weakness, such as Towles breaking free on third and long for a gigantic gain to keep the game going, but overall the defense was outstanding. Between Hargreaves’ interception and long return, Alex McCalister’s two sacks, Jonathan Bullard’s (essentially) game ending sack and Quincy Wilson’s (actually) game ending pick, Geoff Collins’ defense did a fantastic job.

Finally, we as fans should take at least one second to reflect on something. Florida just beat Kentucky for the 29th consecutive time, which means that the Gators are currently in possession of the nation’s longest winning streak over another school. That’s amazing. Where else in organized sports, from Pee Wee football to high school baseball to the NBA and everywhere in between, do you see a streak like that? 29 straight times, Kentucky has taken the field against Florida only to trudge off as losers. The number has become something that’s numbing to Gator fans, as every year now, we see it grow by one- and it’s almost like, oh, cool, who do we play next? Yet as we saw with Vanderbilt in 2013 (thanks Muschamp), no streak lasts forever, so you can’t ever take one for granted. This is something that’s really cool, so let’s cherish it.

But while I felt it was important to throw in a paragraph about the streak, neither the win last night nor the entire streak should be cherished for too long, as now the Gators have another streak they need to get to work on extending. Tennessee pays a visit to the Swamp next week, and they’re a better football team than Kentucky. So while the win and the streak are great, it’s time to get right back to work, or both will be forgotten amidst what could be the beginning of a season defining nosedive.

3 thoughts on “Florida 14, Kentucky 9, Game Recap: Gators hang on for 29th straight win over Cats

  1. … and if they do happen to lose to tennessee, it isnt the end of the world. No matter what the coaching staff says (of course they’re going to tell us they’re competing for an SEC Championship. They’re supposed to tell us that), or what we want to see, 2015 is not the season UF rises back to the top. The Kentucky game should have reminded us all that the team isn’t far enough removed from Muschamp’s tenure yet. It’s going to take another recruiting class and a full season of work with this very young team (QB and O-line for the most part) before everything gels.
    I’m glad Grier played the whole game. That’s the real beginning to getting this offense all on the same page consistently enough to reinforce the foundation being laid by Mac & staff. Of course, I want to see them win every weekend. A big part of me expects them to win every weekend. That’s what winners do. But, we have to be careful not to implode on the team if they hit a rut mid-season where they can’t buy a win against top-25 talent. UF isn’t there, yet. But, they’re on their way.
    In the meantime, support this staff, and our talented student-athletes as they work to regain their rightful place at the top of the SEC pecking order. Let’s remember, this is going to be a marathon, not a sprint.

    1. A rational response is not something Gator fans, for the most part, are known for. Everything you say is true, but the narrative will be that McElwain came in and ended a steak that even Muschamp kept alive. Is that fair? Of course not, but no one is under any illusion that we’re judging coaches fairly. It’s strictly a win/loss business, and it doesn’t matter if it’s McElwain’s first year or not, they’ll be a lot of folks that will claim that UF is more “talented” than Tennessee and that bad “coaching” is the only reason for losing to them.
      I agree that the prudent thing is to accept that the Gators are going to struggle again this year. We’ve already seen that against two bad teams, Kentucky and East Carolina. The most important thing to come from this season, because I don’t see this team going to Atlanta, is to go into next year without the same question mark since Tebow left. Namely, that UF has a decent quarterback to build upon. Muschamp never had one, and McElwain won’t be successful without one either. Regardless of the record, if UF can go into next year with quarterback being a position of strength, or not even that, at least not a position of weakness, then UF will have made progress that never happened under Muschamp.

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