Fall Sports

Grading the Gators: Florida squeaks by Kentucky

Photo by Andy Lyons / Getty Images

The Gators drew passing grades across the board in their 29-21 victory at Kentucky… barely. Florida’s mistakes and misfortune quickly evaporated when backup quarterback Kyle Trask took command for injured starter Feleipe Franks (ankle) late in the third quarter, as it scored three unanswered touchdowns to claw back from an 11-point deficit.

Offense: C+

Somehow the Gators won despite their offensive line surrendering the line of scrimmage.

If you strip away Josh Hammond’s 76-yard, game-sealing scamper, the Gators rushed for 69 yards on 26 carries. For those of you who don’t enjoy quick math, that’s 2.7 yards per carry. Not good.

However, Kentucky’s inexperienced and thin secondary (with regard to a targeting ejection and injury) made things easier for Florida through the air.

Trask took advantage of Kentucky’s zone coverage with a quick passing game. He lifted the ball over underneath defenders, averaging 14 yards per completion (9 for 13 passing, 126 yards).

The Wildcats dropped back and failed to put much pressure on Trask, but you have to give the redshirt junior credit for making critical plays in the face of pressure.

He made a tough pitch to running back Lamical Perine for a touchdown while being tackled in the shadow of the goaline. He also completed a lofted pass to tight end Kyle Pitts for 30 yards with linebacker Jordan Wright in his face. That play set up Trask’s rushing touchdown, which gave Florida the lead.

The Gators moved the ball decently with Franks, as it didn’t punt once under his direction. The field opened up for Trask, as the Wildcats dared him to beat them with his arm, sitting on their lead.

It wasn’t pretty for UF’s offense, but Trask’s comeback certainly vaulted him into Florida folklore.

Defense: B-

That ‘B’ probably turns into a ‘C’ if UK kicker Chance Poore (let’s take a moment to think about how terrible a name for a kicker that is) hits his late field goal attempt. However, the Gators won the turnover battle and played a stingy second half. So ‘B’ it is.

UF played soft defense on Kentucky’s second-to-last drive, which ended with Poore pushing a 35-yard field goal wide right.

Linebacker David Reese II was ravenous. His 16 tackles, including a crucial fourth-down stop of Asim Rose early in the fourth quarter, were nine greater than UF’s next-best tackler, Ventrell Miller.

Florida’s pass rush ‒ which entered the contest leading the nation with 15 sacks ‒ was rather quiet. It only sacked UK quarterback Sawyer Smith once (thanks to a busted assignment) to go with just three quarterback hits.

However, UF pressured Smith on two interceptions by safety Shawn Davis in the second half, which led to 10 points. This second-half resurgence was rather impressive since star defensive end Jabari Zuniga (ankle) sidelined for the final 30 minutes.

The Gators also allowed Kentucky to convert 8 of 13 third downs, but they defended three straight third downs to finish the night.

So while the defense was underwhelming for the majority of its performance, it finished strong.

Special Teams: B

There weren’t many special teams plays to focus on, as each team punted just once and hardly returned kickoffs (UK returned one for 18 yards).

Evan McPherson missed a field goal from point-blank range (27 yards to be exact) definitely brings down the special teams grade, but he did make up for it with a 32-yard conversion.

Another big special teams play came off the boot of Tommy Townsend, who pinned the Wildcats on their eight yard line with a 44 yard punt in the fourth quarter.

So barring McPherson’s bad miss, the special teams played solid football when it actually got the chance.

Coaching: C-

You can’t give the Florida coaches anything less than a passing grade for winning an SEC game, but poor coaching was evident.

Let’s start with penalties. Two holding calls nullified two rushing touchdowns by Franks, while the Gators defense was caught with too many players on the field when the Wildcats had first-and-goal from the five yard line. Shawn Davis also picked up an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty following his second interception. He has to know better, and it’s up to his coaches to teach him better.

Let’s move to turnovers. Franks threw a dreadful interception on the opening drive. He scrambled away from pressure then chucked a deep pass to the end zone, which safety Tyrell Ajian easily intercepted. He could have found a better option (Pitts looked open on the play) or thrown the ball away. Regardless, he’s probably been taught better, and ball security needs to be emphasized.

Another coaching miscue actually occured on Hammond’s touchdown run.

With a one-point lead and only one timeout for Kentucky, all Hammond had to do was fall in bounds after picking up the first down. Instead, he went to the end zone, giving his team an eight-point lead and the Wildcats an unlikely opportunity to tie the game.

On the defensive side, what happened to Todd Grantham’s aggression? UK was so successful on third down, especially third-and-long because Smith had plenty of time to find receivers. We’re used to Grantham bringing pressure in those situations, and we’d certainly expect that strategy against a pass-happy backup quarterback.

Lastly, let’s talk about play calls. I’m not going to knit-pick the bad play calls, because Mullen called a good game for the most part. As previously stated, Florida only punted once. Mullen continues to call plays that allow his team to move the ball in spite of its shoddy offensive line. The short-pass play-calling was particularly successful when Trask entered the game, so the Gators deserve positive credit on that front.

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