Gators defense strong in shutout win over Wildcats

Florida Gators running back Matt Jones (24) runs with the ball as Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Pancho Thomas (45) defends in the second half at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. (Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE)

The No. 11 Florida Gators are now tied with the Tennessee Volunteers for the longest winning streak over Kentucky at 26, after a 38-0 shutout victory over the Wildcats.

Florida’s defense came up huge on Saturday. Kentucky came into the game with the best passing offense in the SEC. Defensive coordinator Dan Quinn’s defense was up to the challenge, holding the Wildcats offense to 60 yards passing and forcing three turnovers, with one interception returned for a touchdown.

“Anytime you’re able to score on defense, that creates a huge momentum swing,” said Florida coach Will Muschamp. “We were able to rush four guys just how we wanted to and we were able to create turnovers.”

[Related Video: Will Muschamp Kentucky Postgame Press Conference]

Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins intercepts a pass from Kentucky quarterback Morgan Newton and returns it for a touchdown in the 2nd quarter. (Kim Klement-US Presswire)

Kentucky was forced to play the game without sophomore starting QB Maxwell Smith, who suffered a shoulder injury. Smith had compiled 966 yards passing in just three games as the starter. The Wildcats were forced to turn to senior backup quarterback Morgan Newton against the Gators, who completed just 7 of 21 passes and threw three interceptions.

Sophomore defensive back De’Ante Saunders started the turnover party in the 2nd-quarter with a finger tip interception that looked as if Saunders had picked the ball off the ground. Junior cornerback Jaylen Watkins made the big play of the day when Newton locked on to a receiver on a short out-route; Watkins picked off the throw and promptly returned it 26-yards for a touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Michael Taylor had the last interception of the game.

Along the d-line, senior defensive tackle Omar Hunter had a strong game, recording eight tackles.

The Florida offense put in a solid performance, however was not great against a bad Kentucky defense. Offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s attack was nearly perfectly balanced, rushing for 200 yards and throwing for 203 yards. Starting sophomore QB Jeff Driskel threw for the 203 yards and a touchdown, but also threw his first interception of the season. Driskel’s 38-yard run in the 1st-quarter seemed to ignite an offense that was slow to get off the blocks for the 12:21 p.m. kickoff.

“Every game is really a building block in development,” Driskel said. “The more experience, the more reps you get, the more you’re going to learn. I did some nice things today, but there’s definitely some things I need to clean up.”

[Related Video: Jeff Driskel Kentucky Postgame Press Conference]

Senior halfback Mike Gillislee received the fewest carries, 13, he has had all year. Gillislee totaled 56 yards on the ground, good for 4.3 yards per carry. Freshman running back Matt Jones had 10 carries for 45 yards and showcased the potential he has. Sophomore Chris Johnson saw his first playing time of the season, carrying the ball five times for 35 yards.

With the dispersement of carries, the Gator Nation received a glimpse of what Florida’s backfield could look like once Gillislee graduates after this season. Jones would be the thunder and Johnson would be the lighting for Pease’s attack.

Senior Omarius Hines has split time at halfback and wide receiver this season. Against Kentucky he was primarily used as a receiver, catching one ball, over the back of a Kentucky defender, bailing Driskel out.

The Gators now have a bye week, and the coaching staff will have two full week’s to prepare for No. 3 LSU. The Tigers will be bringing their talents to Gainesville. Game times have yet to be determined.

Swampland >> Inside Look at the Gators Football Facilities