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Cats falter down stretch, lost 29-21 to No. 9 Florida

Kentucky players react after Chance Poore’s missed goal against Florida. (Vicky Graff Photo)

By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today

LEXINGTON — Kentucky ended a 31-game losing skid to Florida last season, but starting a streak of their own against the Gators proved to be a difficult task for the Wildcats in a 29-21 setback to the ninth-ranked Gators Saturday night.

Florida (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) scored 19 unanswered — all in the fourth quarter — after its starting quarterback Feleipe Franks went down with an injury in the third frame, putting a damper on Sawyer Smith’s debut as Kentucky’s starting quarterback. The Wildcats (2-1, 0-1) suffered their first loss after wins over Toledo and Eastern Michigan to open the season.

“(It was) obviously very, very difficult loss,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “(I) feel like our team did some really good things. (We) fought our way out of a hole early and a few mistakes early, and came back and really played a good football game for a large portion of the game.”

The Gators had three interceptions, including two in the fourth quarter that aided Florida’s successful comeback bid. Kentucky came up short on fourth-and-inches late in the fourth quarter and kicker Chance Poore missed a 35-yard field goal attempt with 54 seconds remaining and the Gators clinging to a 22-21 lead. Florida put the game away on Josh Hammond’s 76-yard run with 21 seconds left on the ensuing possession.

All eyes were on Smith, and for the most part, he didn’t disappoint in his debut as Kentucky’s starting quarterback. Smith was thrust into the starting job after veteran Terry Wilson went down with a knee injury in a win over Eastern Michigan last week.

Smith threw for 267 yards and a pair of touchdowns and also rushed for another score in a learning curve for the Troy transfer.

“At times (I played well),” Smith said. “ There’s a lot of stuff that personally I can clean up. … Hindsight is 20-20, you really can’t do anything about it.”

Stoops thought Smith “did some really good things” and added his progression is “just a matter of getting everybody on the same page.”

“I think there’s a lot to build on there,” he said. “I was proud of the way he went in and played and gave us an opportunity to win this game.”

Kentucky offensive coordinator Eddie Gran shouldered some of the blame for Smith’s performance.

“We didn’t win the game,” he said. “We didn’t put him position good enough to win and that’s always going to be on me. I’ll go back and we’ll find out as a staff collectively (to see what we did wrong) and if we would have won this, it would have been a different deal.”

Although a snap mishap by Smith led to a costly turnover on Kentucky’s first possession, he moved past the miscue and completed his first nine passes, including a 26-yard touchdown strike to Ahmad Wagner, who completed the drive with a bobbling one-handed grab in the end zone.

Smith threw an interception on Kentucky’s first series of the second half but made a tackle that prevented Florida defensive back Shawn Davis from crossing the goal line following a 72-yard scamper in the third quarter. Just as he did following the exchange under center that led to the Gators’ first score, Smith bounced back, this time he fired a 13-yard touchdown pass to Keaton Upshaw — the first touchdown pass of his career — to give the Wildcats a 21-10 advantage.

However, from that point on, it was all Gators.

Overall, the Wildcats were whistled for nine penalties for 79 yards, while starters Yusuf Corker (defensive back) and defensive lineman T.J. Carter were ejected for targeting. Carter’s ejection came in the closing minutes that led to the go-ahead score by the Gators. A pass interference call during the same drive proved to be costly.

“There were some unfortunate plays that we would like back and come calls that I would probably like back, but that’s football,” Kentucky defensive coordinator Brad White said. “That’s going to happen every game.”

Gametracker: Kentucky at Mississippi State, 4 p.m. TV/Radio: SEC Network, UK Radio Network.

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  1. Tough Loss!! Play calls lost this game. 4th and goal run call a play for a RB from 5 yards deep. Finally on 2nd try get it right and let Sawyer line up under center and punch it in. Later with game n the line, line up again with RB 5 yards deep on 4th and 1. That was the ball game. Why not give it to Sawyer under center for a first down? I said it last year and I still say it Our OC is not good. Wish he had gone to Georgia. Benny didn’t bail him out this time. He has the players, if he would use them right!!!

    1. Gran still sux….UGA said he was never offered

      1. Wrong. Was he offered the Georgia job Larry Vaught? I seem to recall several media outlets reporting that he was offered, and you did a piece on it did you not?.

        I will say this, the play calling down the stretch was suspect in some ways, but the defense gave up 19 unanswered too. That said, UK suffered key losses in their their secondary, one on a targeting call, and one to injury. Another targeting call late in the 4th on Carter was a killer. Kentucky looked awesome for three quarters and dominated, and could have probably won it on a made FG. I said it earlier before the season that Smoke is special. Smoke is the bell cow in the RB room, that is obvious. Should have used him on 4 th and short IMO, or QB sneak it.

  2. That 4th Qtr was hard to watch. UK let Florida survive. The targeting penalty against T J Carter cost UK the game IMO, but who knows. These targeting penalties IMO are out of hand. Not fair to the defenders at all. The Cats must put this behind them and get prepared for MSU. UK had their chances, but couldn’t get it done. Next game.

  3. I don’t like this targeting rule. You can’t control your body playing football and it’s not like there doing. It on purpose. The problem is players are more physical compare to 20 -30 years ago the impact of a hit is there. I know there trying to protect players but it seems they have soften the game too much

  4. Targeting is such a subjective call and we got the worst of it twice. With that being said, we still should have won this game. Everybody, coaches and players need to own this debacle and do better next week. I believe most of our players will bounce back, but worry about our coaches. We still have a promising season ahead, but we must play to win every one of them and not worry about losing or running up the score. There is no shame in losing a game when you play well and are competitive, but when you beat yourself, you have a reason to hang your head. Learn from this and make the most of this season!

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