Florida defeated Kentucky, 48-10, on Saturday night. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, which reacts to the game in full before a second viewing, comes first.
Florida's first road win in the SEC under Will Muschamp came easily, with Charlie Weis' play-calling and the Gators' speed merchants at running back combining for an all-time great game on the ground and Florida's defense showing some of the playmaking ability people have been wanting out of a Muschamp unit.
How Florida Won
Florida went up 21-0 in the first quarter after three drives that began in Kentucky territory and ended in one, four, and two plays, respectively. Those drives took a combined 2:08 of game clock, and drove the nails firmly into Kentucky's coffin. Everything that came after was gravy.
Jeffery Demps had his best game as a Florida Gator on Saturday night. The 157 rushing yards (on 10 carries!) was a career best, the 84-yard touchdown run was awesome, and the lack of even a whisper of injury talk was refreshing. I still don't think Demps' is Florida's best option at running back, but he might be the best second-stringer in America: Demps makes up for deficiencies in vision and smoothness with more speed than anyone else in college football has, and if he can make his one cut and find a hole, chains are being moved and points may be scored. He will still get buried and rack up a lot of two-yard gains when the blocking isn't there, but Demps is as fast as ever (...maybe faster?) and absolutely lethal with green grass before him.
Speaking of space: I've written plenty about Chris Rainey in this space, enough for you to gather that I consider him Florida's best running back by some margin over Demps. That's because of plays like his insane 27-yard run in the first quarter: Rainey started left, cut back within inches of the right sideline, ceded ground, followed blockers, and made it all the way to the Kentucky 1 with his combination of speed and agility. Demps could never make a run like that, because Demps isn't as quick or instinctive as Rainey; Demps also wouldn't make it because he doesn't have enough impudent disregard for the way a football play is supposed to shake out. Rainey won't make runs like Demps' 84-yarder, but that's okay: turning nothing into something is usually more valuable than turning a hole into an immediate touchdown.
The offensive line, despite cycling in reserves as early as the first half, was dominant. Florida couldn't have run for 406 yards, sixth-best in Gators history, without that dominance. There are still a few issues with the line — lapses in pass protection like the one by Matt Patchan that resulted in Jeff Driskel getting nailed, goal line problems up the middle — but this crew is much further on the development curve than I would have expected, given its woes in 2010. Dan Wenger providing leadership and the stability that comes from familiarity with Weis' offense and Frank Verducci's blocking schemes is probably worth more than we know.
Florida's defense pulled some "bend, don't break" stuff (299 yards on 80 plays is very good, though), especially when Kentucky was more than three scores in the rear view, but two forced turnovers wrapped around a three and out in the first quarter that produced the field position Florida's offense converted to the 21-0 lead. That's neither bending nor breaking; rather, it's an imposition of will, and getting the first defensive touchdown of the year on Jaye Howard's fumble return early in the second quarter only added to it.
John Brantley's throw to Gerald Christian for the opening touchdown was one of the best he has made at Florida. Perfectly weighted and exquisitely placed, it hit Christian in stride, a happening so rare that friend of the blog Tom Green opined that it might be Brantley's first as a Gator.
Once again, Florida's defensive line got pressure, but not many sacks. (Their two on the night came in the first 18:30 of play.) That's partly due to a rotation up front that sapped some of the pass-rushing strength and the mobility of Kentucky's Morgan Newton, but it's not quite the rampage of a half-dozen hellhounds that some wanted to see from this defense this year. It's also within the realm of possibility that Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn have been able to call vanilla schemes up to this point in the season, and that the exotic stuff is coming against Alabama. That's unlikely, but it's possible.
Christian provided the biggest passing play of the night, and reinforced that Florida's depth at tight end is sort of absurd. Both Christian and Jordan Reed, out Saturday with some injury of a lower body nature, have made big plays, and A.C. Leonard, maybe the most talented of the Gators' tight ends, hasn't made an impact this year. Omarius Hines, who still feels like a tight end, can be similarly impressive, and finally factored into the Gators' offense on Saturday. Add Colin Thompson and possibly Kent Taylor in 2012, and Florida's tight end rotation may be the nation's deepest.
Florida's linebackers and their pursuit in general left something to be desired, but Jon Bostic was tremendous while he was in the game, and Michael Taylor snagged the corps' first pick of the year after he came on as a reserve.
Kentucky's only touchdown of the night came as La'Rod King all but stiff-armed Moses Jenkins out of the play, and the Florida secondary that could have made a quilt from all its yellow flags against Tennessee was much less flammable on Saturday. Caveat: Against Kentucky, with the Wildcats needing to throw from the second quarter on.
Mike Gillislee's going in the next section for fumbling, but his 60-yard touchdown run was quite good. Driskel making multiple blocks and acting as Gillislee's one-man convoy 30 yards downfield was also quite good, and would count as outstanding if Driskel were a fullback. (He's not, though that might not be an awful idea.)
Brantley's first quarter, pass by pass: incomplete, incomplete, complete for 11 yards, incomplete, complete for 10 yards, complete for 45 yards and a touchdown, incomplete, complete for 20 yards. It felt like he made a conscious effort to fire passes downfield without making it all the way through his progression, and it ended up being more maddening than rewarding.
Driskel is not nearly at the level necessary to be an SEC quarterback. He completed one more pass to the 'Cats than his guys Saturday night, and though it came on his finest throw of the night, a laser to a small window that was still just behind Frankie Hammond and turned into a pick after a nutty bounce, Driskel hasn't inspired confidence as a passer at all in his limited action. He's a thrower, one who can chuck fastballs, but he needs to start looking like a passable game manager, and soon. Why, you ask?
Because Florida's blitz pick-up means that Brantley isn't going to finish every SEC game. Kentucky's Danny Trevathan is an excellent player who is destined for the NFL, but he doesn't hold a candle to what awaits Brantley when the Gators face Alabama, LSU, and South Carolina, and Florida's inability to handle Trevathan on a blitz up the middle spells serious trouble for the Gators' starter. (I'm also very suspicious of Brantley saying he's "all right"; considering how info about Brantley's injured ribs spilled out last year, I won't be shocked if Brantley is terrible against Alabama, then admits to broken ribs.
Florida gave up a 29-yard tight end screen and a 31-yard scramble to Newton. No other SEC quarterback, save maybe Stephen Garcia, presents the sort of scrambling threat Newton does, but other teams run screen passes.
Solomon Patton is not as good at returning kicks as Andre Debose is. Debose was "hurt" and did not play. Let us hope Debose plays against Alabama.
Florida's coaching staff had Rainey return a punt in the fourth quarter while the Gators were up 41-10. That was a stupid decision.
Do Florida's wide receivers exist? This is a serious question.
This isn't about Florida, but ESPN analyst Ed Cunningham ran his theory that Rainey was injured in the second quarter into the ground on the broadcast in a way that both belied the action on the field (Rainey stepping out of bounds instead of engaging multiple tacklers was Rainey being smart, not proof of injury) and betrayed little understanding of Rainey or the Florida offense. Yes, Florida should have gotten Rainey fully out of the game sooner, but to protect him from injury, not save him after injury. Cunningham was chasing a ghost that wasn't there, and if he doesn't get assigned to another Florida game this year, I'll be happy.
Stats and Miscellany Dump
Demps and Rainey each rushed for over 100 yards, the first time that's happened since Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin did in the 2009 BCS National Championship Game. ... Rainey and Demps are both on pace to rush for over 1,000 yards this season, a feat Florida hasn't seen one player accomplish since Ciatrick Fason in 2004. ... Florida has given up 16 second half points this year, all to Tennessee. ... Driskel has two interceptions on nine pass attempts in 2011. ... Brantley's three straight games without an interception matches his career high. ... Matt Elam has forced turnovers in each of Florida's last three games. ... Florida still hasn't given up a rushing touchdown this season. ... Trey Burton has seven touchdowns in 18 touches against Kentucky; he's scored touchdowns on 38.9% of his touches and averages 2.33 points per touch against the Wildcats.
Previously in Rapid Recaps: Florida Atlantic, UAB, Tennessee.