GAINESVILLE, Fla. — In the end, Kentucky's will to win was too much for the Gators to overcome, as the No. 20 Cats toppled No. 12 Florida inside of a sold-out Swamp. UK earned a 26-16 win in Gainesville Saturday night.
With the win, head coach Mark Stoops becomes Kentucky football's all-time winningest coach, surpassing Bear Bryant's previous record.
Saturday's win also marks the first time since the 1976 and '77 seasons the Cats have tallied back-to-back victories over the Gators.
In a highly-anticipated battle of the quarterbacks, Will Levis came out victorious in more ways than one. UK's QB completed 13-24 passes for 202 yards in the air and one touchdown. Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson's final stat line included a 14-25 passing completion rate for143 yards in the air, to go along with just six carries and four yards on the ground. Richardson was picked off by Kentucky's defense twice, both of which resulted in UK touchdowns.
Kentucky had 70 net yards on the ground. Smoke led the way in the Cats' rushing attack, racking up 80 yards, 71 of which came in the second half.
Defensive Coordinator Brad White's unit came to play. A host of players made game-changing plays, including linebackers Jacquez Jones, Jordan Wright and J.J. Weaver, defensive backs Keidron Smith and Carrington Valentine, and true freshman defensive lineman Deone Walker.
Weaver led the way for the defense with nine total tackles, followed by Jones and Lovett with seven tackles each, Wright and DeAndre Square with six apiece, and Tyrell Ajian and Valentine, who each had five.
The Gators were the first team to put points on the board, thanks to a 39-yard field goal by kicker Adam Mihalek. The score read 3-0 with 10:03 remaining in the first quarter, and it remained that way for the duration of the period. Through the first 15 minutes of action, Kentucky's offensive line struggled. The Big Blue Wall allowed Levis to be sacked three times in the first quarter, and the Cats were subsequently slow to develop a rushing attack.
Florida was called for an illegal blindside block with 13:24 to go in the second quarter, which cost the Cats defensive back Jalen Geiger.
Jalen Geiger has a leg injury. He will not return tonight.— Kentucky Football (@UKFootball) September 11, 2022
The starting safety had to be carted off the field with a brace on his leg, and he did not return to the game. Redshirt freshman Jordan Lovett came in as Geiger's replacement.
Kentucky's first score of the night came when Levis connected with true freshman Dane Key for an electric 55-yard touchdown. Although the catch was briefly reviewed, the call on the field stood, Matt Ruffolo nailed his first extra point of the night, and the Cats went up 7-3 with 11:36 to play in the second quarter.
Florida responded with a 50-yard field goal to close the gap, 7-6. The Gators followed that up by forcing a Levis turnover, which Florida converted into a touchdown and a 2-point conversion to take a 14-7 lead.
Two more points were tacked on for the Gators after a high snap went over punter Colin Goodfellow's head, leading to a safety for the home team.
Super senior Jordan Wright snatched an interception on Florida's 24-yard line that flipped the momentum in the Cats' favor. Kentucky's offense got the ball back on Florida's 6-yard line, and Levis eventually punched it in for a touchdown.
However, another bad snap led to another missed opportunity on special teams, and Ruffolo didn't have the chance to attempt the extra point.
Florida owned a 16-13 lead at the break.
In his halftime interview, Coach Stoops told ESPN reporter Katie George: "Gotta execute better. With all that being said, we're 2 snaps away from being tied. We're making mistakes, we're beating ourselves... Nice to see the defense step up"
Halftime stats #BBN ⬇— BBN Tonight (@BBNTonight) September 11, 2022
Gators lead 16-13. Will Levis is 10-15 in the air for 155 yards & 1 touchdown. UK's QB has been sacked 3 times, and the Cats only have 2 positive rushing yards on 15 attempts. Jordan Wright with UK's 1 interception pic.twitter.com/rUnR8ULiO8
Kentucky came out with confidence in the second half, establishing a running game off-the-bat, largely thanks to Kavosiey Smoke, but the Gators held the Cats to a field goal. Ruffolo's 24-yarder tied the game at 16 apiece.
However, it wasn't long until the Cats regained the lead. Ole Miss transfer Keidron Smith secured an interception and returned it to the end zone for a pick six. With 3:25 left in the third quarter, Kentucky took a 23-16 lead and never looked back.
Ruffolo put one more field goal through the uprights to get Kentucky to the final score: 26-16.
The Cats will return to Kroger Field for a home game against Youngstown State University next Saturday. Kick off is set for noon on the SEC Network.
For more on the Cats, watch BBN Tonight weeknights at 7:30 p.m. on the official station for Big Blue Nation, LEX 18 News. The show is also available across the state on UK Sports Network TV affiliates, and all the time on BBNTonight.com