For the first time since 2015, a Mark Stoops-led football team will finish with a losing record, as the Wildcats fell to No. 6-ranked Florida 34-10 on Saturday in Gainesville.
With the loss, Kentucky drops to 3-6 with the regular season finale set for next week against South Carolina. Due to COVID-19, all teams are bowl eligible so the Wildcats will have a least two more chances to enter the win column in what’s been an emotional 2020 season.
Entering the game without several key players, including leading rusher Chris Rodriguez for the second consecutive week, Kentucky showed some fight early on but fell short due to penalties, miscues on special teams and continued shortcomings in the passing game.
Florida scored on its first possession after a fake punt on 4th down from their own 25-yard line resulted in a first down, setting the stage for a 56-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Trask to Kyle Pitts to give the Gators an early 7-0 lead with 6:03 remaining in the first quarter.
After a Florida turnover, Kentucky capped a 38-yard scoring drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass from Terry Wilson to Keaton Upshaw to tie the game at 7-7 with 11:18 left in the half.
The Wildcats took a 10-7 lead late in the second quarter on a 22-yard field goal by Matt Ruffolo at the 2:13 mark to finish off a 14-play drive that covered 87 yards. However, Florida’s Kadarius Toney scored on a 50-yard punt return with just 42 seconds left in the half to give the Gators a 14-10 advantage.
In the second half, Florida’s opening drive covered 75 yards as Trask connected again with Pitts on a 2-yard pass to extend the lead to 21-10. The Gators had help from three consecutive Kentucky penalties (two face masks and a pass interference).
The Gators would then add a 34-yard field goal before Trask found Pitts in the end zone for the third time to give Florida a commanding 31-10 lead with 3:36 left in the third quarter. Florida added a final field goal in the fourth quarter to close out the scoring.
Trask, the nation’s leader in touchdown passes, finished 21-27 for 256 yards with three touchdowns. Wilson, who threw two interceptions on Saturday, finished 10-18 for 62 yards.
Stoops, now in his 8th season at Kentucky, has led the Wildcats to four straight seven-win seasons and back-to-back Bowl victories, beating Penn State in the Citrus Bowl (2018) and Virginia Tech in the Belk Bowl (2019). He recently became the school’s all-time leader in home victories (passing Paul “Bear” Bryant), but is now just 23-42 in conference play and 47-50 overall.
Despite a lackluster passing attack this season, sophomore tight end Keaton Upshaw was the bright spot on Saturday, catching three passes for 28 yards and a touchdown.
At 6-foot-6 and 245 pounds, Upshaw has the size and finesse to be an impact player in an offense that’s in desperate need of an overhaul heading into next season. For the season, Upshaw has 13 catches for 162 yards and is a reliable option on short yardage situations. He’s also a solid blocker and is starting to get some serious looks from NFL scouts.
Entering Saturday’s game at Florida, the Kentucky offense ranked last in the SEC in passing as the only team with less than 1000 yards on the season (981). By comparison, Florida (2,643) and Alabama (2,563) have both thrown for more than 2,500 yards this year.
Against Florida, Kentucky’s offense had the edge in time of possession, having the ball for 23:22 in the first half compared to 6:37 for Florida. However, keeping the other team off the field is only an advantage if you can put points on the board, a glaring weakness this season for the Wildcats. Florida held the Kentucky offense to just 46 yards in the second half.
As Wilson closes out a productive career as a run-first quarterback, sophomore Joey Gatewood and freshman Beau Allen will compete for the starting job next year as offensive coordinator Eddie Gran will have to redesign a more balanced offense in 2021. Gatewood entered the game in the fourth quarter and threw an interception on his first possession, while Allen did not see action.
Kentucky, 3-6, hosts South Carolina next week at Kroger Field.