Mental mistakes, an invisible run game and a defense getting gashed on the ground.
All things that could’ve gone wrong for the Florida Gators (3-2, 1-1 SEC) as they lost their third-straight game against the Kentucky Wildcats (5-0, 2-0 SEC).
The game might’ve seemed like just another off day, but the Sept. 30 loss is yet another chapter in a never-ending saga of underwhelming football that is slowly defining Florida football in the 2020s.
What happened in Lexington, Kentucky, Sept. 30 afternoon is another verse in the same song that sank Dan Mullen in 2021 and is continuing to play through head coach Billy Napier’s tenure. UF is now just 2-13 since 2021 away from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
While some fans will point to the recruiting issues that permeated the Mullen era and left Florida behind its conference rivals, the growing tally of deflating losses away from the Swamp has nothing to do with the amount of recruiting stars on the roster.
Mental errors, defensive issues and offensive inconsistency have defined almost every loss for the last three seasons, and this was the latest example.
Special teams errors have defined Florida’s season. Penalties and personnel issues marred an otherwise quiet area of the game. Napier seemed happy with his special teams unit after a win over Charlotte, but against the Wildcats, the Gators sang the same old song.
Florida’s defense finally made a big stop and looked to get the ball back in good field position. Then freshman cornerback Dijon Johnson was called for leaping — one of the least common penalties in college football — and Kentucky got a free first down.
One play later, the Wildcats scored a 75-yard touchdown.
The team actually addressed this specific situation during the week, but Johnson still made the crucial error, Napier said.
“It's disappointing because we had a similar situation in last week's game,” Napier said. “We covered it thoroughly throughout the week.”
This type of blunder defines seasons. For the Gators, it’s not even the first time this happened this year.
The infamous two players wearing the number three incident gifted Utah a first down when the Utes looked to punt it away to Florida. Four plays later, Utah scored to take a 14-0 lead.
While Johnson’s foul was arguably the most impactful mistake, it wasn’t the only embarrassing guffaw from the Gators.
Kentucky lined up two yards from Florida’s end zone early in the third quarter. Tailback Ray Davis — who ran for a ridiculous 280 yards and four total touchdowns — plowed his way to pay dirt through an extra-large Gator defense.
Florida didn’t just have its goal line package on the field, it had 13 defensive players — two more than are allowed. The Wildcats didn’t accept the penalty as Davis muscled into the end zone anyway.
Even when the proper personnel was on the field, the Gators’ porous defensive showing sent piercing flashbacks to Dan Mullen’s demise two years ago. Florida allowed 329 rushing yards, nearly as many as it had allowed through the first four games of the season.
The Wildcats’ 329 rushing yards are the most allowed by a Gators’ defense since Florida’s blowout Cotton Bowl loss to Oklahoma in 2020. Despite the improvements on defense under first-year offensive coordinator Austin Armstrong, this was a performance straight from the depths of the Todd Grantham doldrums.
“Three-hundred-plus on the ground, that’s not who we are and not who we want to be and we’re going to get it fixed,” Napier said.
The result could’ve been even worse if not for a few big plays from redshirt junior quarterback Graham Mertz. While the Wisconsin transfer threw for just 244 yards, Mertz made plays in the passing game to give the Gators a glimmer of hope in the second half.
Despite Mertz’s best efforts, Florida never got within 16 points in the second half. The offense ran the ball for a meager 69 yards, a bleak reminder of the Utah loss to open the season. The Gators were beaten physically throughout the game, Napier said.
“We’ve gotten beat around here,” Napier said. “I don’t know that we’ve been beat up like that. We got to take ownership of that.”
Florida will need to rebound quickly to not let its second loss derail a once-promising season.
The Gators will host the Vanderbilt Commodores in a homecoming clash in the Swamp. The game is set for Oct. 7, and kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. The game will be broadcast on the SEC Network.
Contact Topher Adams at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Topher_Adams.
Topher Adams is a fourth-year communications major and in his fourth semester with the Alligator. He previously covered football, baseball and women's basketball. He also enjoys professional lacrosse and Major League Soccer.