LEXINGTON — The Kentucky Wildcats are too small in the trenches and too young at the skill spots to win at this point against an upper echelon Southeastern Conference opponent.
That was evident Saturday night as Coach Mark Stoops’ Wildcats battled typically hard, but came up short, 24-7, to the Florida Gators at Commonwealth Stadium.
Kentucky dropped to 1-3 overall and 0-1 in the SEC, while the 20th-ranked Gators improved to 3-1 and 2-0.
“Give Florida credit ... they did what I was worried about going into the game,” Stoops said. “They really controlled both lines of scrimmage the entire game. Right from the opening drive, they kind of set the tone for what the night was going to be like. They are a very good football team ... a very physical football team.”
Stoops was referring to the Gators’ 93-yard, 13-play drive off the opening kickoff that put them up 7-0 right out of the gate.
Kentucky came back to tie it on its opening offensive series on a dynamic 25-yard run around right end by kicker Joe Mansour, off a marvelously executed fake field goal attempt. Holder Jared Leet took the snap on the play and made a perfect over-the -back-shoulder pitch to Mansour, who ran untouched to the end zone.
“That was something we worked on all week,” Stoops said. “We felt like we had an opportunity where they had
one guy, and we had the option to run it or throw it depending on what he did. We felt that if we could get the handoff or the toss, we would have them in a bind.”
“Mansour is pretty fast,” said UK freshman wideout Ryan Timmons. “That’s probably something you guys didn’t know.”
“It felt unreal,” said Mansour. “I heard the crowd and everyone piling on me. It was great.”
But that only postponed the inevitable. The Gators went on to lead 21-7 at halftime with a ball control offense and coasted from there.
Offensively, the Gators’ linemen consistently pushed Kentucky’s linemen back three to four yards, leaving plenty of running room for the Florida backs. The Gators rushed for 246 yards, led by sophomore running back Matt Jones, who gained 176 yards on 28 carries and scored a touchdown.
On the other side, while the Wildcats are clearly better at the skill spots than they have been in several years, Kentucky is still not a match for a defensive unit as athletic and strong as Florida.
It speaks volumes that Kentucky’s leading rusher in the game was, in fact, Mansour with his 25 yards.
Franklin County’s Timmons led the UK wide receivers with six catches, but he was only able to muster 40 yards out of them. Every time Timmons caught the ball, even in space, he turned to face multiple Florida defenders. Too many to shake.
“I give them credit ...they’re a great team,” Timmons said of Florida. “They’re physical up front and very quick in the secondary.”
“They controlled the line of scrimmage and made it every difficult to run the ball,” Stoops said, returning to the theme of this night. “They outnumber you all the time with big, physical dudes. Then you have to beat them outside, and they have some very good talent outside. You saw in one-on-one situations, they made most of them.
“So they put you in a bind where you have to make plays, and you have to beat them.”
Kentucky finished with just 173 yards of total offense.
Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith was up and down, completing 12 of 20 passes for 90 yards, with one interception.
Jalen Whitlow was 5 of 6 for 35 yards.
The Wildcats had their chances to at least make Florida nervous on the lead.
Stoops and his staff tried several trick plays in the game, but too often the home team failed to connect. The most notable was a second half play deep in Florida territory when Kentucky wideout Daryl Collins took a pitch from Whitlow, ran right and stopped, looking to pass the ball back across the field to Whitlow.
But a couple of Florida defenders got in the path of Collins’ apparent throwing lane, and the UK sophomore was tackled for a loss.
Asked if he was “more aggressive” with the trick plays in this game than he would be against a lesser opponent, Stoops emphatically said yes.
“Out of respect for their defense, knowing we were going to have a hard time moving the ball consistently,” he said. “So we had to take some shots.”
Sophomore quarterback Tyler Murphy played a good game for Florida in his first game starting in place of Jeff Driskell, who broke his leg last week in the Gators’ win over Tennessee. Murphy completed 15 of 18 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown.
Trey Burton led the Florida wide receivers with six catches for 66 yards and a score.
The game made for a successful return to Commonwealth Stadium for Joker Phillips, UK’s head coach the past three seasons and current wide receivers coach for the Gators.
Stoops and several Kentucky players approached Phillips after the game to offer congratulations.
“Joker has done a lot for this program,” Stoops said. “He worked very hard for this program for a long time. I think most people have a lot of respect for what Joker has done, the person, the player, the coach he’s been for this university. So I was glad to see that. I went over and said hi to him as well ... congratulations.”
The road doesn’t get any easier for the Wildcats, of course. They play at South Carolina Saturday at 7:30 and return home Oct. 12 to host Alabama. The time for the Alabama game will be announced this week, maybe as early as Monday.
NO. 9 GEORGIA 44,
NO. 6 LSU 41
ATHENS, Ga. (AP) — Aaron Murray threw four touchdown passes, including a 25-yarder to Justin Scott-Wesley with 1:47 remaining, and No. 9 Georgia rallied to beat No. 6 LSU 44-41 in a thrilling game between Southeastern Conference powerhouses Saturday.
The Bulldogs (3-1, 2-0) completed their opening-month run through a gauntlet of top-10 teams with a victory that propelled them back into the thick of the national championship race.
LSU (4-1, 1-1) got a career-best 372 yards passing from former Georgia quarterback Zach Mettenberger in his return to Athens, and the Tigers went ahead 41-37 on Jeremy Hill’s 8-yard touchdown run with 4:14 to go.
But that was plenty of time for Murray and the high-powered Bulldogs on a day when neither defense had much success.
He completed three straight passes to quickly move the Bulldogs into LSU territory, and freshman J.J. Green broke off an 18-yard run to the Tigers 25. Then it was Scott-Wesley, breaking wide open behind the secondary to haul in a pass and tiptoe just inside the pylon for the winning score.
NO. 1 ALABAMA 25, NO. 21 MISSISSIPPI 0
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. (AP) —The Crimson Tide’s offense didn’t jump on the Rebels early, but Alabama turned to its ground game in the second half after the sluggish start.
T.J. Yeldon rushed for 121 yards, Kenyan Drake gained 99 and the top-ranked Crimson Tide’s defense smothered normally high-octane No. 21 Mississippi in a 25-0 victory on Saturday night.
The Tide (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) regrouped after a lackluster effort against Colorado State that prompted several team leaders to speak up and a series of one-on-one chats with coach Nick Saban during the week.
Saban had said Alabama players were feeling “overwhelmed with expectations.”
The result was an SEC West matchup that turned increasingly one-sided, with the Tide outgaining the Rebels (3-1, 1-1) 434-205 in total yards.
NO. 4 OHIO ST. 31,
NO. 23 WISCONSIN 24
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Braxton Miller threw a career-high four touchdown passes in his first game in three weeks and No. 4 Ohio State ran the nation’s longest winning streak to 17 games with a 31-24 victory over No. 23 Wisconsin on Saturday night.
Miller was back after missing the last two games with a sprained left knee and didn’t show the slightest bit of rust.
The junior threw three touchdown passes in the first half, including a 40-yarder to Corey Brown with 1 second left that put Ohio State (5-0, 1-0 Big Ten) up 24-14.
Joel Stave and Jared Abbrederis kept the Badgers (3-2, 1-1) in it. Stave threw for 295 yards and two TDs.
Abbrederis caught 10 passes for a career-best 207 yards and a score. James White ran 17 yards for a touchdown with 13:47 left in the fourth quarter to cut Ohio State’s lead to 31-21.
NO. 3 CLEMSON 56, WAKE FOREST 7
CLEMSON, S.C. (AP) — Tajh Boyd became the second Atlantic Coast Conference quarterback to account for 100 career touchdowns, leading Clemson to the easy win.
Boyd threw for three touchdowns and rushed for another score. He stands at 102 TDs, joining former North Carolina State star Phillip Rivers in the ACC’s century club.
Boyd passed for 311 yards and ran for 69 to surpass Charlie Whitehurst as Clemson’s total offense leader.
The Tigers (4-0, 2-0) have won their first four games for the second time in Boyd’s three seasons as starter. He had touchdown throws of 64 yards to Sammy Watkins, 75 yards to D.J. Howard and 14 yards to Mike Williams as Clemson built a 35-7 halftime lead.
Tanner Price had a TD pass for Wake Forest (2-3, 0-2).
NO. 8 FLORIDA ST. 48, BOSTON COLLEGE 34
BOSTON (AP) — Jameis Winston threw for four touchdowns for Florida State, including a 55-yard Hail Mary as time expired in the first half.
Winston had first-half touchdown passes of 56 and 10 yards to tie the game after BC, coming off a 28-point loss to Southern California, opened a 17-3 lead.
The desperation heave to Kenny Shaw made it 24-17, and then Winston added a fourth TD pass in the second half as the Seminoles (4-0, 2-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) pulled away.
In all, the Florida State freshman completed 17 of 28 passes for 330 yards and ran 14 times for 67 more.
Chase Rettig completed 19 of 29 passes for 197 yards and a career-high four touchdowns for BC (2-2, 1-1).
WEST VIRGINIA 30,
NO. 11 OKL. ST. 21
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — Clint Trickett threw a touchdown pass in his first start at West Virginia, and Ishmael Banks returned an interception for a touchdown.
Josh Lambert kicked three field goals for West Virginia (3-2, 1-1 Big 12), which rebounded from its first shutout loss in 11 years.
Trickett, a transfer from Florida State, became West Virginia’s third starting quarterback after Ford Childress was injured last week. Trickett finished 24 of 50 for 309 yards in his first start since subbing for EJ Manuel for the Seminoles in October 2011.
J.W. Walsh tossed three touchdown passes for Oklahoma State (3-1, 0-1), but was intercepted twice.
NO. 12 S. CAROLINA 28,
CEN. FLORIDA 25
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Mike Davis rushed for 167 yards and three touchdowns as South Carolina overcame an injury to its starting quarterback, four turnovers and a halftime deficit to get the win.
Davis picked up the slack after starting QB Connor Shaw left with a sprained right shoulder following a hard tackle during South Carolina’s first offensive series.
Knights quarterback Blake Bortles threw for 358 yards and two touchdowns, but had two interceptions and a fumble.
South Carolina (3-1) also lost second-string tailback Brandon Wilds in the third quarter with a left elbow strain, but Davis remained steady as the primary ball carrier.
UCF (3-1) had all the early momentum, leading 10-0 at halftime, the first time the Gamecocks had been shut out in a half since 2010.
NO. 14 OKLAHOMA 35, NO. 22 NOTRE DAME 21
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Blake Bell threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Sterling Shepard in the fourth quarter, and Oklahoma jumped to a two-touchdown lead in the opening three minutes.
It was the Sooners’ second win over the Fighting Irish in 11 meetings.
The Sooners (4-0) had three interceptions that led to TDs, including a 24-yard score by linebacker Corey Nelson. Damien Williams, suspended the previous game against Tulsa for violating team rules, added an 11-yard TD run after an interception by linebacker Frank Shannon.
The Irish (3-2) cut the lead to 27-21 in the fourth quarter, but the Sooners answered with Shepard’s TD.
Notre Dame’s Tommy Rees struggled for a second straight game. After three straight games of passing for more than 300 yards, he was 9-of-24 passing for a season-low 104 yards.
NO. 15 MIAMI 49, SOUTH FLORIDA 21
TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Stephen Morris threw for two touchdowns before limping off with an ankle injury and Duke Johnson scored a TD in his eighth consecutive game, helping Miami roll to the win.
Miami (4-0) is off to its best start in nine years heading into next weekend’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener at home against Georgia Tech.
At 0-4 under first-year coach Willie Taggart, USF is off to the worst start in school history and has dropped 13 of 14 dating to last season.
Morris threw for 222 yards, moving ahead of Steve Walsh and into ninth place on Miami’s career passing list. He tossed TD passes of 19 yards to Herb Waters and 34 yards to Stacy Coley as the Hurricanes scored on their first three possessions and amassed 251 yards of offense in the first quarter alone.