All streaks end eventually.
Instead, on a wild and windy Saturday night in the Bluegrass State, Florida survived a slobbernocker against Kentucky, as head coach Jim McElwain captured his first conference win with a 14-9 victory.
Big Blue Nation rocked a blue-out and shiny chrome helmets in a soldout Commonwealth Stadium, but the Wildcats (2-1, 1-1 SEC) proved they still don’t quite have the horses to upset the Gators (3-0, 1-0 SEC), losing for an astonishing 29th straight year.
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“Heck of a road win against a team that’s gonna win a lot of games in this league and keeps getting better and better,” McElwain said.
“You know the defense obviously stepped up and played really good. …They played their hearts out and I’m awfully proud of them.”
Trailing 14-3 to start the fourth quarter, Kentucky nearly rallied to bust the streak, but Florida foiled the comeback with a pair of standout defensive plays to end the game.
In the game’s final minute, Gators defensive tackle Jon Bullard sacked quarterback Patrick Towles on third down to setup a 4th-and-27 deep in UK’s own territory.
Sophomore cornerback Quincy Wilson then intercepted Towles’ desperation heave to seal UF’s 11th straight conference-opening win.
“I think everyone went out there and gave it their all,” Bullard said.
“When we needed big plays people stepped up and did it. I feel like this year is my year to step up and do certain things, and that’s what I did.”
A year after the two teams combined for 982 yards and 66 points, UF extended its historic streak winning an ugly defensive struggle.
The Gators allowed just 241 yards, as their defensive line dominated the night.
Towles, who torched UF’s secondary for 369 yards and three scores in 2014, could barely muster a competent passing attack because of Florida’s pass rush.
The Gators recorded six sacks and 10 tackles for loss, as junior end Alex McCasilter was a menace off the edge (2 sacks), as was five-star freshman CeCe Jefferson, who earned his first-career start Saturday.
Towles had just 43 yards early in the fourth quarter before connecting on a 45-pass to Jeff Badet. But Florida’s defense rose to the occasion again, as McCalister drilled Towles for a sack and UK was forced to settle for a field goal.
Meanwhile, the Gators’ offense remains a work in progress.
Redshirt freshman Will Grier, making his second-consecutive start, delivered an uneven yet gritty performance.
It was hardly flawless, and he didn’t seize the job outright, but Grier played the entire game and worked around UF’s porous offensive line, completing 13-of-22 passes for 125 yards and a pick.
Grier methodically piloted UF’s attack, mostly with his legs. The deceptively elusive quarterback rushed for 61 yards on 12 carries.
He was especially effective turning busted plays into positive gains, including a diving touchdown on fourth-and-goal to give the Gators a 7-0 lead. Just before halftime, he engineered a 10-play, 57-yard touchdown drive for a 14-3 advantage.
But for the second straight week Grier played poorly in the second half, going just 5-for-10 for 31 yards and a brutal interception.
“I thought he did some decent things,” McElwain said.
“He’s got a lot of growing up to do. He did some good things with his feet. He got us some plays, but might have gotten in trouble as well by not sitting in there and waiting for the play to develop. Left some awful big plays on the field. But with that being said, for the most part he did a decent job of protecting the football except for the throw down in the red zone.”
McElwain never inserted sophomore Treon Harris, but Grier’s boneheaded throw late in the third quarter (picked off in the end zone on first-and-goal inside the five) nearly ignited UK’s comeback -- and UF’s quarterback controversy.
Kentucky immediately marched down the field, but Florida’s tenacious defense eventually answered the bell.
The Wildcats held the ball for nearly seven minutes, only to be stoned inside the two-yard line on three straight runs and forced to settle for a field goal.
UF continued let Kentucky hang around (shaky special teams, two 3-and-outs and a gassed defense), but the Gators’ proud front-seven almost single-handily thwarted the potential upset.
Kentucky entered the night confident after last weekend’s 26-22 win at South Carolina -- its first conference road win in 22 games.
But the evening got off to an inauspicious start, as ‘Cats wideout Dorian Baker dropped a touchdown on their first drive.
On the very next play, Baker tipped a ball to All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III for a 53-yard interception, setting up Florida’s first touchdown.