UF whips Wildcats behind Kyle-to-Kyle connection, second-half shutout
For the second game in a row, the sixth-ranked Gators found themselves trailing 10-7 in the second quarter to a team with a losing record.
And like last week, a touchdown just before the break put Florida in front and it never relinquished the lead. Kyle Trask led the offense on another TD drive to start the third — throwing one of his three scores to Kyle Pitts — and UF’s defense pitched a second-half shutout, pulling away for a 34-10 win over Kentucky before 14,453 at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field. The Gators (7-1) have now won 33 of the last 34 meetings against UK (3-6).
“I think we came out and we didn’t play very well to start,” coach Dan Mullen said. “We still only gave up 10 points in the first half and got a stop right before half that allowed us to get the score, take the lead and take the advantage.
“From that last drive of the first half on, that was what we expect Gator defense to look like.”
Trask finished with 256 yards on 21 of 27 passing and broke Danny Wuerffel’s school record with his eighth consecutive game with three-plus touchdowns. That brought his season total to 34, which surpassed Tim Tebow (32) and tied Rex Grossman for the third-most TD passes in school history. Weurffel holds the single-season record with 39.
This week outside of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, a poster with Trask’s name went up from in front of the Lee Chira Family Heisman Plaza next to the statues of Tebow, Weurffel and Steve Spurrier.
“I did see the poster, I thought it was pretty funny,” Trask said. “But our goal is to win and that’s all I'm focused on.”
In Pitts’ first game back since Georgia, the Kyle-to-Kyle connection was established early and often against the Wildcats. Following Dameon Pierce’s 15-yard run on a fake punt, Trask hooked up with Pitts for a 56-yard touchdown on their opening possession.
UK’s Kelvin Joseph, who leads the SEC in interceptions and tweeted Wednesday that he would lock down the Gators, was beat by Pitts on the play. He finished with a team-high 99 yards receiving on five catches.
“It’s fun, because it just makes me play better,” Pitts said of the trash talk from Joseph and linebacker J.J. Weaver. “I feel it gives me an extra boost. So when I saw that and heard about it, it just makes you go harder. It makes me feel like they didn’t respect me, so I feel like today I kind of showed what I had.”
Justin Shorter fumbled on Florida’s second series, resulting in a tie game with Terry Wilson’s four-yard touchdown pass to Keaton Upshaw. After a three-and-out by Trask & Co., Kentucky put together a 14-play, 87-yard drive to take the lead on Matt Ruffolo’s 22-yard field goal with 2:13 left in the half.
At that point, the Wildcats were dominating the time of possession 22:10 to 5:37 and UF had run just 15 plays. Jacob Finn punted again on the ensuing drive, but pinned Kentucky at the one-yard line.
The Gators forced their first three-and-out on defense and set up a game-changing touchdown by Kadarius Toney. UK’s Max Duffy, the 2019 Ray Guy Award Winner, shanked his punt and Xzavier Henderson drew the coverage toward him by pretending to field it.
That opened the lanes for Toney, who shook two defenders and took it to the house for a 50-yard punt return.
“We were kicking dead left and it was a total shank,” coach Mark Stoops said. “Max is a great punter and it doesn’t happen often, but he just missed it.”
It was the second key play from Florida’s special teams, and Trask said Toney’s return had a huge impact on the game.
“We wanted to use two returners to take advantage of that situation that they were in and see if he made a mistake,” Mullen said of the play. “Our guys up front did a great job of holding it up to get the return going. And then you saw KT, once he got in the open field, he is a dangerous guy with the ball in his hands."
The Gators scored on the first three series of the third quarter to build a three-touchdown lead, while their defense had two more three-and-outs, a turnover on downs and three interceptions on Kentucky’s six second-half possessions. The first five netted just 15 total yards before UF benched its starters.
"We haven’t been great at turnovers, maybe at the level that we want to during the course of the season. And to come out there and create the turnovers, the way we did — all huge plays — just bringing a smothering defense in the second half, it was huge,” Mullen said of the picks by Mohamoad Diabate, Shawn Davis and Tre’Vez Johnson.
Pitts caught a two-yard touchdown against UK cornerback Brandin Echols after the break, hitting him with a rock-a-bye baby celebration in the end zone. With his seven-yard TD later in the third, Pitts became the only FBS player to have multiple games with three-plus receiving touchdowns this season.
“He’s hard to leave one on one,” Mullen said of Pitts, who’s now tied for the most receiving touchdowns (11) in FBS. “You leave a corner on him, he’s got great size. You leave a backer on him, he’s got a great speed. When they left him one on one, Kyle Trask took advantage of those matchups.”
Florida will be back on the road Saturday at rival Tennessee before wrapping up the regular season at home against LSU, a game rescheduled from Oct. 17. A win over the Vols will clinch the SEC East, giving Mullen his first division title as a head coach and sending UF to Atlanta for the first time since 2016.
“Haven’t thought about that really, to be honest with you. We’re going to enjoy this win,” Mullen said. “We haven’t done anything yet. We’re where you like to be, which is in first place, controlling our own destiny, but we don’t want to get into a situation where we don’t do that.
“How that happens is we don’t prepare, we don’t improve, we don’t get better, we don’t get ready to play a tough Tennessee team in Knoxville next week.”