Tonight was by far the most exciting Gator football game I have attended in just my second year at the University of Florida! This game had all the makings of an ESPN Classic! There were missed field goals, a miraculous fourth down conversion, and THREE overtimes which all culminated into a 36-30 Gator victory over the hated Kentucky Wildcats. This is the Gators' 28th straight victory over Kentucky and is the first since time since 2007 that they have defeated the Wildcats by single digits. This is also the first overtime game between both squads.
I will start with the offense like I do in every football article I have written. In the first half, the offense was horrendous. They were only able to put three points on the board as the Gators could simply not get the ball in the end zone. I felt like I was in 2013 again. In the second half, the offense began to pick up as they scored 17 points and a combined 19 points in overtime.
Quarterback Jeff Driskel did alright tonight as he completed 25 passes for 295 yards and three touchdowns. His most important touchdown pass game in the first overtime with the Gators trailing 27-20 with 4th down and 7 looming. With the play clock nearly at zero, Driskel took the snap and threw the ball up. I thought the game was over when Driskel threw it... but fortunately I was very wrong. Out of nowhere came wide receiver Demarcus Robinson to make the catch for a touchdown and keep the Gators' hopes alive! I will talk more about him later in the article.
Before I get to Robinson and his phenomenal night, I have to mention Matt Jones and the running game. Jones and Kelvin Taylor split carries tonight and it was Jones who led the way with 160 yards on 29 touches and the game winning touchdown run in triple overtime.
Jones reminded me of Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch as he just ran through Kentucky players tonight. I am very tempted to start calling him "Beast Mode." Taylor posted 69 yards on 15 carries tonight. I don't know if a late hit that left Taylor shaken up early in the game affected how the Gators wanted to use him, but something was definitely different as he only had five carries in the second half and overtime combined. Nevertheless, he was still effective against Kentucky.
Now on to the receiving corps, which tonight was essentially Demarcus Robinson. The sophomore had the best game of his young career tonight as he caught 15 balls for 216 yards and two touchdowns! His game tying touchdown catch in the first overtime gave him his fifteenth reception which tied him with Gator legend Carlos Alvarez for most receptions in a game. Robinson is my MVP for this game and I, as well as many Gator fans, will never forget his touchdown catch to keep the streak against Kentucky alive.
Besides Robinson, four different Gators had two receptions to contribute to Driskel's 295 passing yards. The only other receiver to record a touchdown catch was senior tight end Tevin Westbrook. Westbrook's touchdown was actually the first time the Gators had penetrated the end zone all night.
On the defensive side of the ball, the defense was a tale of two halves. In the first half, they were dominant as they only gave up three points and forced four "three and outs." In the second half, the defense came unraveled as the secondary gave up a ton of deep passes and 17 points to Kentucky. In overtime, after giving up a touchdown run on the most bizarre play I had ever seen, the Gator defense tightened up and allowed just six points.
My defensive player of the game is sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III (or VH3 as we all love to call him). VH3 led the secondary in pass breakups with four and recorded five tackles in the game. His most important play was not a tackle or a deflected pass, however. In triple overtime, VH3 was able to get his finger tips on Kentucky's field goal attempt and keep the game tied as the kick fell short.
The Gator secondary had three interceptions between junior safety Brian Poole and sophomore safety Keanu Neal. Poole had seven tackles and a clutch interception at the Gator 40-yard line with 28 seconds left in the game to prevent Kentucky's last ditch effort to get in position for a game winning field goal. Neal was all over the field as he had two interceptions and nearly ran one of them back for a touchdown! They both combined for four pass breakups on the night.
As for the rest of the Gator defense, the only players ahead of Poole in tackles were linebacker Antonio Morrison (10) and safety Marcus Maye (9). Defensive lineman Dante Fowler forced the lone fumble of the night with a sack, but the Gators were unable to recover it. The only other Gator sack came from defensive lineman Darious Cummings. The defense as a whole allowed 450 yards on the night (81 rushing and 369 passing) but as the stats in parentheses indicate the run defense was on point. The secondary (not including Hargreaves III, Poole, and Neal) obviously needs some work.
Special teams was solid for the most part tonight. Kicker Francisco Velez was 3/4 on field goal attempts with his longest kick being 35 yards. Austin Hardin was brought in with three seconds left in regulation to kick the potential game winning 52 yard field goal due to his stronger leg, but his kick went wide right. In overtime, Velez resumed kicking duties as he made the game tying extra point in the first overtime and gave the Gators a lead to defend with his 20-yard field goal in double overtime.
Kyle Christy punted the ball six times for a total of 292 yards. Kentucky tried returning two of them and only managed 19 yards out of both those attempts. Hardin recorded four touchbacks on his five kickoffs tonight.
This game was very entertaining, but I am a tad bit upset that it took the Gators three overtimes to beat Kentucky, who did not even win an SEC game last year. I would have preferred the opponent to be LSU or Alabama, but I'll take a good game when it's thrown my way. The refs were a bit suspect this game as there were a good amount of questionable calls against the Gators, but it wasn't enough to stop the Orange and Blue from ultimately getting the 'W'.
As for Kentucky running back Jo Jo Kemp who said earlier this week, "It's going to be fun walking out with a victory and rubbing it in their faces," he ran for just 24 yards on 8 carries, injured himself, and didn't play a snap in overtime. Usually backing up your talk is the number one rule of smack talk, but maybe Kemp's narrow minded brain can't understand the concept. Regardless, it looks like the Gators are now the ones with the last laugh.
With Kemp and Kentucky in the rear view mirror after a memorable win, the Gators' (2-0) attention now turns to Tuscaloosa and the mighty #3 Alabama Crimson Tide (3-0). I will not lie, I am a bit concerned. The offense was lackluster for most of this game and the secondary fell apart in the second half. The Alabama game will help me get a good idea of where the Gators are at on a competitive level in this young season. Either way, I will watch the game on TV and support them, regardless if the game is close or not. Game time is 3:30 p.m. on CBS.
On the other side of the spectrum, it will be a while before the Kentucky Wildcats (2-1) recover from this loss. They came just one play away from ending 27 years of heartbreak only to see the Gators rally back and hand them their 28th straight loss. They have a bye week coming up, so they will have even more time on their hands to reflect on truly how close they came to defeating the Florida Gators in the Swamp and ending "The Streak." Their next game will be a home game against the Vanderbilt Commodores (1-2) on September 27th.
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com