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September 29, 2013
Here are a dozen observations from Florida's 24-7 win over SEC East opponent Kentucky.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
One thing a quarterback has to learn how to do is share the credit. On Saturday, sophomore running back Matt Jones was used as an absolute workhorse and came through by taking a career-high 28 carries for a career-high 176 yards. He averaged 6.3 yards per touch (thanks mostly to a huge 67-yard run) and crossed the goal line for the second-straight game. After the game, Jones claimed he was 95 percent healthy. It was obvious that he was still shy of being full strength. The confidence gained on Saturday coupled with another week of practice should have him ready and raring to go against Arkansas on Oct. 5.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
Florida's only turnover came on a stellar interception by freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. It was his third career pick in four career games. To put that another way, Hargreaves has as many interceptions through his first four games as juniors Marcus Roberson (three) and Loucheiz Purifoy (zero) have in 55 combined appearances. He has emerged as the best defensive back on the Gators football team. The only question is whether that interception total will continue to increase. You would have to believe teams will stop throwing in his general direction, right?
UNSUNG HERO OF THE GAME
Jones and redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy got most of the credit for the offense's success on Saturday, but UF's offensive line was equally deserving of praise. "We had a great surge all night on the offensive line," head coach Will Muschamp said after the game. "Every play seemed like three or four yards, getting them off the line of scrimmage." Muschamp said the offensive line was playing so well - and running game working so well - that he saw no need to throw the ball in the second half. "I was just standing on the field and I'm just sitting there watching three or four yards every time we're snapping the ball," he said. "We were getting a very good surge up front. I thought our guys did a great job getting a hat on a hat in the run game."
STAT LINE OF THE GAME
13-of-13 ... which is how Murphy started the game behind center. Murphy threw high-percentage passes, extended plays when necessary and was a big reason why Florida finished 8-of-13 on third down conversions. Granted, his first incompletion was an interception that was nearly returned for a touchdown, but he did hustle down the field and make the score-saving tackle. Against a poor Kentucky defense, Murphy's high completion percentage was more indicative of his confidence and poise than anything else. He still has to prove he can be effective against tougher defenses.
ON THE RISE
The Gators' receiving corps have earned recognition here in consecutive weeks. Against Tennessee, it was the duo of senior Solomon Patton and redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar that got the honor after consecutive impressive performances. This week it is senior Trey Burton, who matched a career-high with six receptions and led Florida with a game-high 66 receiving yards. Murphy kept going back to Burton and was rewarded with receptions - not drops. Over two drives at the start of the second quarter, Murphy went to Burton four-straight times, the first of which was a nine-yard touchdown strike in the back of the end zone. The next three included two first down receptions and 37 total yards. Burton's rise at receiver is just another example of the hiring of wide receivers coach Joker Phillips paying dividends.
ON THE BUBBLE
This was a difficult game in which to pull out a single player for criticism but considering how much hype was thrown his way throughout the offseason, Purifoy has yet to do anything that notable for Florida in 2013. He finished with two tackles on the evening but also got called for a blatant pass interference penalty. Purifoy slipped on another play, leading his receiver wide open; if Kentucky was capable offensively, the pass catcher would have been thrown to for an easy completion and big gain. With the emergence of Hargreaves and presence of so many other talented cornerbacks on the roster, Purifoy has done absolutely nothing to separate himself or prove that the first-round draft pick hype is justified.
Though not in a good way, Saturday's most surprising moment came when Muschamp decided to attempt a 53-yard field goal with redshirt freshman Austin Hardin, whose season-long is 33 yards. Hardin missed the field goal - kicking it short and wide right - but Muschamp said after the game that he had confidence in his kicker and had no doubts about letting him attempt the kick. Apparently Hardin was hitting from long range during warm-ups. Nevertheless, he is now 4-of-7 on field goals this season and has missed every attempt longer than 33 yards (39, 41, 53).
For the second-straight week, the Gators' special teams unit failed. This time it has nothing to do with poor punting, missed field goals or a non-existent return game. Rather, Florida had absolutely no containment on a field goal that was faked and brought 25 yards for a touchdown. Even worse, it was pretty obvious both that Kentucky had no intention of going for the field goal and that UF's players were not reminded to watch for the fake. That is a failure on the responsible player(s) for rushing in for the block without considering a fake was possible and the coaching staff for failing to ensure the appropriate players were prepared for a trick play. The Gators may be able to get by with these miscues against teams like Vols and Wildcats, but their schedule is just going to get tougher from here.
PLAY OF THE GAME
With the game tied 7-7 late in the first quarter and Murphy nearly sacked for a loss near Florida's 35-yard line, he avoided some rushers and headed toward the left sideline to run out of bounds and move on to the next down. Instead, Murphy saw Dunbar out of the corner of his eye, threw across his body while running and hit him for a 29-yard reception all the way down on Kentucky's 32-yard line. Dunbar looked down, insured his toes were in bounds, and made the catch. One has to wonder, if Dunbar was not so worried about his feet, if he could've controlled the ball and turned up the field for a touchdown.
THE GOOD NEWS
The Gators are 2-0 in SEC play and took care of business on the road despite losing two team leaders in a four-day span from Saturday to Tuesday. Murphy appeared to be in command of the offense, Jones stepped up and the defense was once again dominant. Florida has not allowed Kentucky to score an offensive touchdown in 10 quarters with the last such touchdown coming in the second quarter of the 2011 game. The Gators can also continue boasting about their 27-game winning streak over the Wildcats, which dates back to a 1987 victory.
THE BAD NEWS
Though the defense played well overall, Florida did allow Kentucky to move the ball at times and simply did not get the same push it did up the middle with senior defensive tackle Dominique Easley in the fold. Redshirt junior nose tackle Leon Orr (shoulder) played sparingly but should be back at full health next Saturday. Additionally, special teams remains an issue overall. A unit that has won UF games in the past could certainly cost it victories in 2013 if things do not get corrected soon.
A LOOK AHEAD
Florida will face Arkansas for just the 10th time in the history of the two programs and will do so bringing an eight-game winning streak into the showdown. The Gators have not lost to the Razorbacks since the teams first met in 1982 and even then UF only fell to UA by four points. Florida will also be facing its third-straight opponent with a head coach in his first year at the school in Bret Bielema (Tennessee - Butch Jones, Kentucky - Mark Stoops). It was announced Sunday that the game set for Saturday, Oct. 5 will air at 7 p.m. on ESPN2, making it the first night game in The Swamp since Nov. 26, 2011.