Florida vs. Kentucky score takeaway: No. 20 Wildcats dominate second half to crush No. 12 Gators

Near a touchdown underdog entering The Swamp on Saturday night, No. 20 Kentucky blanked No. 12 Florida in the second half to earn a 26-16 win and continue a wild day of college football upheaval. While none of the game’s star quarterbacks were particularly effective, Gators phenom Anthony Richardson was particularly poor as the Wildcats defense rocked him all night to win back-to-back games against their SEC rivals. East for the first time since 1976-77.

The victory over Florida also makes Mark Stoops the winningest coach in Kentucky history with 61 wins, one more than the legendary Paul “Bear” Bryant. The ‘Cats have now won three of their last five meetings against the Gators after losing the previous 31 games in the rivalry.

Kentucky trailed 16-7 after recording a safety when missing a snap on a punt late in the second quarter, but the visitors were able to clinch the game’s final 19 points, including a 65-yard pick by Keidron Smith with 3:25 left in the third quarter and Matt Ruffolo’s 26-yard field goal with 1:24 remaining.

The British defense gave up just 91 yards to UF in the second half, much of it on time on the game’s final possession, in one of the most impressive performances of the Stoops era.

Kentucky quarterback Will Levis teamed up with Dane Key for a 55-yard touchdown to take a 7-3 lead early in the second quarter, but Florida scored the next 13 points, including a touchdown run from 11 yards and a 2-point conversion reception by Trevor Étienne.

The Cats’ rushing offense, which was largely stagnant in the first half, turned things up in the final period behind Kavosiey Smoke and La’Vell Wright, wearing down a Florida defense that was struggling with the physics of its offensive line. It was the first time the Gators had been shut out in the second half since 2017 against Michigan.

Richardson entered the game with the Heisman Trophy and NFL hype after engineering a thrilling win over the then No. 1. 7 Utah last week, but he struggled mightily on Saturday. Richardson went 14 of 35 for 143 yards with two interceptions and just 4 rushing yards. He’s yet to throw a touchdown in either game this season.

What are the biggest takeaways from Saturday night’s SEC East battle in Gainesville? Let’s break them down.

Kentucky knows its identity

Stoops didn’t become the winningest coach in program history by accident. He did it by establishing Kentucky’s football identity in his own image — an old-school team that smacks opponents at the line of scrimmage and capitalizes in the second half. This game was a perfect encapsulation of that identity.

Florida had just 13 yards rushing in the second half, converted just two of its eight chances on third down, one of three on fourth down, and had just 2.9 yards per play. Kentucky held Florida without a big play — passes of 15 or more yards and rushes of 10 or more yards — in the fourth quarter. It is the calling card of a well-trained and fundamentally solid defense.

We don’t know what the Kentucky offense is capable of. Levis didn’t have a good day in the air and struggled to consistently move things on the ground. This makes its ceiling a mystery. What is known is that his floor is incredibly high due to a mentality that sets in the moment Stoops welcomes players to campus.

Anthony Richardson has a lot of work to do

Richardson’s week-long hype was largely due to his 106 rushing yards and three rushing touchdowns. However, he had a relatively average day in the air with 168 yards and an average of 7.0 yards per attempt. He wasn’t full on Saturday, which played into his lack of on-field production, but Kentucky made him one-dimensional and he couldn’t pass.

Simply put, the hype was too loud, too soon for the second redshirt student from Gainesville, Florida. That doesn’t mean it can’t solve the problem. But he was used primarily as an on-court change last year behind Emory Jones, and that inexperience showed up against Kentucky.

It’s more than “just a game”

Kentucky has Youngstown State and Northern Illinois on the schedule ahead of a showdown with Ole Miss in Oxford. It looks like a clash between the top 15 teams in a game that can not only propel the winner into “competitor” status within the division, but also as a legitimate threat to the national title.

Kentucky has two games to work on its offense and, perhaps more importantly, to bring Chris Rodriguez Jr. back in charge of Smoke and the rest of the running backs corps. If they can consistently establish the run – something that only happened in the second half on Saturday – Levis’ job will be much easier and turn the Wildcats into a complete football team.

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