LEXINGTON (AP) — Every time Kentucky’s pressure seemed to have Will Grier within reach, the Florida quarterback scrambled away to run for crucial yards including the Gators’ first touchdown.
Unfazed by zero yards passing in the first quarter, the redshirt freshman settled in to make key throws to set up the Gators’ only other TD and keep the clock moving. Florida’s stingy defense then did the rest to make it stand.
Will Grier and Kelvin Taylor each rushed for short touchdowns, the Gators’ defense registered six sacks for 50 yards and two interceptions and Florida held off Kentucky 14-9 Saturday night to extend its winning streak over the Wildcats to 29 games.
“What a great win,” first-year Gators coach Jim McElwain said after his initial Southeastern Conference victory. “The defense obviously stepped up and played really good. … These guys were into this game and played their hearts out. I’m awfully proud of them.”
Defense was definitely the story for the Gators on a night in which they barely outgained the Wildcats 245-241. Challenged several times to make a 14-3 halftime lead stick as Kentucky threatened, Florida left the Wildcats settling for two Austin MacGinnis field goals before Quincy Wilson’s interception with 33 seconds left sealed the hard-fought road win.
That was no easy task before a blue-clad sellout crowd hungry for Kentucky to end a generation of misery against Florida, which continued the nation’s longest active winning streak over an opponent.
But then, the Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC) did have All-SEC Conference cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III back from a leg injury that kept him out of last week’s win over East Carolina. And he got things going early with a 53-yard interception return leading to Grier’s 1-yard run. Florida then held firm after Taylor’s 3-yard TD made it 14-3 in the second quarter.
The Gators held Kentucky’s Patrick Towles to 8-of-24 passing for just 126 yards and allowed just 115 yards rushing behind those half-dozen sacks.
Grier, a redshirt freshman, rushed 12 times for 61 yards and completed 13 of 22 passes for 125 yards. His lone mistake was an end-zone interception by Kentucky’s J.D. Harmon that led to a field goal, but it could have been worse.
At the very least, Florida might have the quarterback it needs.
“I think he did some decent things,” McElwain said of Grier. “Obviously, he has a lot of growing to do. He did some good things with his feet and got us some plays, but that might have gotten him into some trouble as well by not staying in the pocket and letting the play develop.”
Taylor had 45 yards rushing on 16 attempts as Florida outgained Kentucky 120-115 and reduced its mistakes from the previous game. There’s still room for improvement as the Gators were penalized 10 times for 61 yards but those flags didn’t cause too much damage.
“It shows we don’t let adversity hit us and we keep fighting until the clock says zero,” said Taylor, whose throat-slashing gesture after a touchdown against East Carolina drew an unsportsmanlike penalty and then McIlwain’s ire in a sideline tirade that went viral.
“We have to keep getting better from it and see what we did wrong.”
Kentucky meanwhile must regroup from a performance of mostly what-ifs that spoiled hopes of beating Florida for the first time since 1986. Towles rarely had time to throw because of Florida’s constants, receivers dropped passes and the ground game sputtered for the most part.
Not quite what coach Mark Stoops expected after his team upset South Carolina 26-22 last week.
“I was just disappointed in the way we played,” Stoops said. “We didn’t play a clean enough football game. We talked about it all week. We just needed to play a good, clean football game and play to our capabilities the best we can. We didn’t do that tonight and give Florida all the credit.”