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Kentucky 20, Florida 13: Mistake-prone Gators fall to tough Wildcats

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Florida did not pass its first road test.

Syndication: The Courier-Journal Matt Stone/Courier Journal / USA TODAY NETWORK

Before their final two possessions of the evening, the Florida Gators’ longest drives against the Kentucky Wildcats on Saturday night in Lexington spanned no more than seven plays.

Florida was flagged for more false starts than that — eight of them — in its 20-13 loss to the Wildcats, managing to be penalized for its last with goal to go on the doomed final drive that consigned the Gators to their first loss at Kentucky since 1986 — and just their second loss to the Wildcats in the teams’ last 36 meetings.

The Gators’ staggering 15 penalties for 115 yards sideswiped drive after drive, and gave Kentucky precious ground that neither defense was yielding easily. Florida’s biggest mistake, though, came in the form of a blocked field goal by Kentucky’s Zach Pascal in the third quarter that teammate Trevin Wallace scooped up and returned for a touchdown that put the ‘Cats up 13-10 — though just that, with Florida blocking the subsequent point-after try.

Its second-biggest was almost as painful, as Emory Jones’s interception in the fourth quarter got cashed in for a touchdown shortly afterward. And the one big play the Wildcats hit all evening was a 41-yard catch-and-run by Wan’Dale Robinson on which Florida defenders’ poor angles led to missed tackles and six points.

But on the other 45 plays Kentucky ran, it gained just 183 yards — inches more than four per play. And Florida’s defense stopped the Wildcats on all but one of their nine third downs, also coming up with an immense fourth-down stop in the fourth quarter.

So the questions for the Gators to answer are really more about how an offense that rolled up 382 yards of total offense converted it to just 13 points.

The blocked field goal and Florida’s failure at the goal line late — Jones’s fourth-down pass intended for Trent Whittemore was broken up by a breaking Wildcat — account for some of the yards that were not converted into scoreboard changes.

But Florida failing to push the pedal on a possession prior to halftime will also stick in craws, as will an early decision to punt in Kentucky territory.

And while the Wildcats were futile on their offensive third downs, they were feral on the other side of the ball, limiting Florida to just four conversions on 13 tries.

A smart defensive game plan that forced the Gators to take only what was in front of them limited explosive plays to a bare minimum, and while Anthony Richardson returned to the field for the first time since injuring his hamstring against USF, his contributions amounted to little, with his final stat line showing one completion for eight yards and five carries for 25 despite his first touch being an 11-yard tote.

Florida’s brownout in this game likely short-circuits what was a promising season, too, with the Gators now needing to run the table in conference play — beating Georgia along the way — and also have both the seemingly elite Bulldogs and/or this surprising Kentucky team drop other SEC matchups just to have a chance to represent the East Division in the SEC Championship Game.

But the Florida team that announced itself as a potential contender for championships by hanging with Alabama two weeks ago in The Swamp took steps back on this night in its first daunting road game — quite literally, in many cases — and does not necessarily look up to that daunting task.

And now that promising September looks like just another false start on the way to the mountaintop.