University of Florida

UF narrowly escapes at home as Gators struggle with Kentucky Wildcats

LEAping for more:  Florida running back Matt Jones jumps over teammate Clay Burton during the second quarter of Saturday’s game. Jones scored the game-winning touchdown in the third overtime.
LEAping for more: Florida running back Matt Jones jumps over teammate Clay Burton during the second quarter of Saturday’s game. Jones scored the game-winning touchdown in the third overtime. Getty Images

Demarcus Robinson saved Florida’s bacon, and likely coach Will Muschamp’s job in the process.

Kentucky — losers of 28 in a row against UF — nearly stunned the Gators, but Florida’s electric sophomore receiver single-handily shredded the Wildcats’ secondary for 15 catches, 216 yards and two touchdowns as UF escaped 36-30 in triple overtime Saturday night in The Swamp.

Junior tailback Matt Jones chipped in 156 yards on 29 carries, including the game-winning score from 1-yard out.

Kentucky displayed tremendous resolve and resiliency, but Robinson proved too talented, flashing his elite athleticism and breathtaking joystick jukes all night.

The sophomore, who tied Carlos Alvarez’s school-record 15 receptions set in 1969 and was also the first Gators receiver to register consecutive 100-yard games since Jabar Gaffney in 2001, scored the tying touchdown on a controversial 4th-and-seven in the first overtime.

The Gators, trailing after UK freshman wide receiver T.V. Williams scored a 25-yard touchdown on a broken play on the first snap in overtime, barely got the play off, enraging Kentucky coach Mark Stoops.

The two teams traded field goals in the second overtime, before Kentucky pushed a 41-yard kick wide right in the final period. Four runs later, Jones dove into the end zone waiting for a celebration dog-pile.

But Saturday night was all about Robinson.

The sophomore was unstoppable, reeling in a collection of slants, digs and crossing routes — this despite Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel struggling for much of the evening.

Driskel finished the night 25 of 43 for 295 yards, three touchdowns and one interception, but was inaccurate throughout.

Driskel’s fortunes turned on a lucky deflection to Robinson that actually kick-started the offense’s second-half momentum.

Trailing midway in the third quarter, Driskel stared down his new go-to wideout and nearly threw a pick-six, but the football bounced off the UK defender’s hands right to Robinson for a 34-yard gain. The Gators immediately followed the crazy break with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Tevin Westbrook.

But Kentucky refused to go away.

After the two teams were knotted 3-3 at halftime, a frenetic third quarter turned a barn burner into a brief shootout.

Wildcats sophomore quarterback Patrick Towles, who finished the night 24-of-45 for 369 yards, torched UF’s young secondary for a pair of long touchdowns — both to freshman wideout Garrett Johnson (60 yards, 30 yards).

The Gators offense responded by going back to the only trick that worked: throwing the ball to Robinson.

The sophomore hauled in three receptions for 40 yards, including a go-ahead score on an easy 9-yard corner route.

Yet the Gators’ heralded defense couldn’t get a stop. After UF field goal kicker Frankie Velez missed a 39-yard attempt, Kentucky stormed down the field again to tie the game at 20-20 with a booming 51-yard field goal by freshman kicker Austin MacGinnis.

Sophomore safety Keanu Neal intercepted his second pass of the game late in regulation, but UF kicker Austin Hardin pushed a 52-yard kick wide right as time expired.

Florida suffered from spotty offensive line play throughout, as the reshuffled unit — sans starting left tackle D.J. Humphries (high ankle sprain) — was outplayed by UK’s ferocious front.

Wildcats bookends Za’Darius Smith and Bud Dupree harassed Driskel for much of the game, and the unit totaled 2.5 sacks and seven hurries.

Redshirt freshman tackle Roderick Johnson labored in his first career start in place of Humphries, Driskel — under constant duress — was dreadful in the first half as the Gators failed to score at least 20 points before halftime for the fifth time in 30 years.

Florida’s defensive backs were inconsistent all night, too. Towles flirted with disaster all game, and although the Gators intercepted the sophomore three times, they dropped at least four others — including a potential game-changing pick-six by All-American cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.

This and that

Florida wideout Quinton Dunbar, a Miami Booker T. Washington standout, extended his school-record 30-game receptions streak. … JoJo Kemp, UK’s backup tailback who predicted an upset, finished with eight carries for 23 yards. … Gators punter Kyle Christy averaged 48.7 yards on six punts. … UF was penalized eight times for 78 yards.