Florida stared at a fourth and goal from Kentucky’s 8, two plays after its eighth false start of the game.
Jones dropped a few steps and located his target in the middle of the end zone. He stepped into his throw and delivered a strike toward wideout Trent Whittemore.
Kentucky inside linebacker Jacquez Jones stuck his right arm out and got his fingertips on the ball to knock it away, cementing his team’s first victory versus Florida at Kroger Field since 1986.
The Wildcats beat Florida 20-13 Saturday night in Lexington, Kentucky, and knocked the Gators out of College Football Playoff contention after five games.
The majority of Florida’s drives seemed destined for the end zone but were handicapped by yellow markers, and the team was whistled for 15 penalties for 115 yards.
“In the SEC, you’re not going to come in and make the mistakes that we made and win a game,” Mullen said after the loss.
Some of the false starts were due to snap issues from center Kingsley Eguakun. Florida didn’t use a silent count, according to Mullen.
“It’s the same snap count we use every day,” he said.
The Gators hummed down the field for a seven-play, 75-yard touchdown drive on the third drive after each team exchanged punts to start the game. Starting quarterback Emory Jones found wide receiver Ja’Quavion Fraziars on a screen pass to the left, deep in the red zone. The sophomore caught the ball and plunged into the end zone for his first career score and Florida’s first touchdown Saturday to make it 7-0.
Kentucky responded 59 seconds later. Quarterback Will Levis dropped back and hit wide receiver Wan’Dale Robinson on a screen with a convoy of Wildcats in front of him. They escorted him 41 yards to the endzone to tie the game at 7 points apiece. Tennessee scorched the Florida defense on a similar play a week ago.
Florida proceeded to march to Kentucky’s 33-yard line on its fifth drive before kicker Jace Christmann drilled a 51-yard field goal to put the Gators up 10-7.
The Gators received possession a minute before the half and earned two first downs. Head coach Dan Mullen elected not to use any of his three timeouts despite Kentucky getting the ball after halftime, and Florida took the three-point lead to the locker room.
“You’re on the road, you’re back to the wall, we were making some errors right there,” Mullen said about saving his timeouts. “We got the ball on our 30-yard line… let’s just go kind of settle everybody down and not create a potential issue right there.”
After a pair of failed drives, Levis attempted to find his wide receiver Josh Ali, but it sailed over him and into Florida defensive back Tre’Vez Johnson’s arms. The sophomore returned the pick to the Kentucky 15.
Florida kicker Jace Christmann lined up for a 48-yard field goal after the drive sputtered. The holder Jeremy Crawshaw caught the snap and placed it down perfectly for his kicker. Christmann sprinted and swung his right leg forward.
Kentucky defensive end Joshua Paschal hurled himself into the dark black Kentucky sky and his hand caught a piece of the football, pinwheeling the ball back toward the field.
Wildcats’ middle blocker Trevin Wallace caught the ball and sprinted back 76 yards with a host of Wildcats’ for a touchdown to give his team the lead. Kentucky kicker Matt Ruffolo left the lead at three when his extra point was blocked by Valentino.
Following a failed Florida drive, Kentucky turned it over on downs at Florida’s 34. Two plays later, Jones tried to fit a pass toward his tight end Kemore Gamble over the middle. He failed to see UK’s outside linebacker J.J. Weaver sitting on the route, and the Wildcat jumped the route to pick him off, Jones’ first interception since the first half of the Alabama game.
Kentucky punished Jones and the Gators five plays later. Running back Chris Rodriguez Jr. darted 9 yards untouched into the end zone. Ruffolo converted the extra point to make it 20-10, Wildcats.
Florida responded with another promising drive, again looking fated for six. But it suffered its sixth false start on fourth and 2 from UK’s 11, forcing Mullen to send out the field goal unit. It was the Gators’ 13th penalty of the game. Christmann’s kick was good to keep Florida trailing by a touchdown, 20-13.
The Gators had one more attempt to force the game into overtime, but Jones’ fourth-down pass fell harmlessly to the ground.
Florida outgained Kentucky 382 to 211 in total yards, 211 yards from Jones and Richardson through the air. It also went four of 13 on third-down conversions.
The Gators will need to regroup for homecoming versus Vanderbilt next Saturday in The Swamp at noon.
Contact Zachary Huber at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.