Luke Del Rio faked a handoff to Jordan Cronkrite and planted his feet.
After eyeing Antonio Callaway breaking away from coverage, the quarterback heaved a spiral 40 yards downfield.
Callaway caught the ball in stride, about five yards in front of the nearest Kentucky defender, and sprinted his way into the endzone for a 78-yard touchdown to give Florida an early two-touchdown lead and send the Ben Hill Griffin Stadium crowd into a roaring frenzy.
It was the explosive play UF coach Jim McElwain was looking for during the Gators’ 45-7 win over the Wildcats on Saturday. There were more to come in Florida’s 30th straight win in the series against Kentucky.
“I thought we played better,” McElwain said, “but I think we can play better than this.”
Del Rio threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns on 19-of-32 passing, leading the Gators to points on seven of his 10 drives before backup quarterback Austin Appleby entered in the fourth quarter to finish the game. Del Rio’s 320 yards were the most by a UF quarterback since Chris Leak had 322 yards against Arkansas in 2004. Four of Del Rio’s completions went for at least 25 yards.
Del Rio wasn’t without his mistakes, though. He threw a couple passes into triple coverage and had a second-quarter interception that bounced off the hands of receiver C.J. Worton. The Wildcats failed to execute on the blunder, though, missing a 33-yard field goal that bounced off the left upright.
And on the rare occasions when the passing game wasn’t working, Florida (2-0, 1-0 SEC) uses its four-headed running back group to run the ball down the Wildcats’ throats.
The result: 244 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground on 50 carries. Freshman Lamical Perine paced the group (105 yards on 17 carries).
After Florida’s first drive stalled and kicker Eddy Pineiro’s 42-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide left, the Gators opened scoring with a 15-play, 84-yard touchdown drive capped by a Mark Thompson 3-yard touchdown run through the left side of the offensive line.
It opened the field for Del Rio’s 78-yard bomb to Callaway on the next drive and set the tone for the rest of the game. Callaway, a former Booker T. Washington standout, finished the game with a career-high 129 yards. Nine players caught passes from Del Rio.
The defense played energized, forcing eight tackles for loss, five sacks and four turnovers. Kentucky quarterback Drew Barker threw more interceptions (three) than completions (two) and was relieved by in the third quarter by backup Stephen Johnson. He fumbled on his second play from scrimmage. The Gators scored six plays later on a 4-yard Jordan Scarlett touchdown run.
The Wildcats (0-2, 0-1 SEC) mustered 149 yards in the game, with the bulk of the yardage coming on a 45-yard completion from Johnson to receiver Jeff Badet. Kentucky scored on a 2-yard rushing touchdown from Jojo Kemp six plays later to avoid the shutout.
Pineiro rebounded from his opening-drive miss by rocketing a 54-yard field goal in the second quarter.
With 10 games left in the regular season, McElwain is not ready for his team to go into cruise control.
“Championship teams, SEC championship teams, national champion teams they get better every week,” Del Rio said. “... We did a really good job improving from Week 1 to Week 2, and we need to do a better job improving from Week 2 to Week 3.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ With Saturday’s game potentially being the last time CBS’ Verne Lundquist calls games in The Swamp, UF made sure he left with some mementos. Among the gifts he received from UF were a framed blue No. 17 Lundquist jersey, a white Gators football and an orange Gators football helmet. Saturday was the 73rd Gators game Lundquist called in his career. He is retiring from CBS after the conclusion of the season.
▪ Florida’s back-to-back national championship men’s basketball teams (2006 and 2007) were honored during the first quarter. The group also collectively served as UF’s honorary Mr. Two Bits before the game.