By GARY B. GRAVES
AP Sports Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Will Grier and Kelvin Taylor each rushed for short touchdowns and Florida’s defense registered six sacks and two interceptions to hold off Kentucky 14-9 Saturday night and extend its winning streak over the Wildcats to 29 games.
Defense was the story for the Gators on a night in which they barely outgained the Wildcats 245-241. All-Southeastern Conference cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III got things going early with a 53-yard interception return leading to Grier’s 1-yard run and Florida (3-0, 1-0 SEC) held firm after Taylor’s 3-yard TD made it 14-3 in the third quarter.
The Gators held Kentucky’s Patrick Towles to 8-of-24 passing for just 126 yards and allowed just 115 yards rushing behind those half-dozen sacks. The Wildcats (2-1, 1-1) had several chances to score but managed just three Austin MacGinnis field goals.
Grier rushed 12 times for 61 yards and completed 13 of 22 passes for 125 yards. Taylor had 45 yards rushing on 16 attempts.
Florida gave first-year coach Jim McIlwain his initial SEC win and turned in its second-best defensive effort of the young season after holding New Mexico State to 200 yards in the opener. Having several players back from injury certainly helped the Gators, with Hargreaves wasting no time making his presence felt after missing last week’s victory over East Carolina with a leg injury.
Hargreaves was perfectly positioned to intercept Towles’ tipped pass and return it to Kentucky’s 19. Grier scored five plays later, getting the angle on the right side to reach the pylon and silence a blue-clad sellout crowd hoping for the Wildcats’ first win over the Gators since 1986.
Kentucky responded with a 64-yard drive to set up Austin MacGinnis’ 29-yard field goal and draw within 7-3, setting the tone for a night in which it couldn’t reach the end zone.
The Wildcats’ failure spoke volumes about Florida’s defense, which sacked Towles three times before halftime alone and controlled the line of scrimmage. Dorian Baker’s end-zone drop on the Wildcats’ first drive didn’t help, especially when Hargreaves made the pick two plays later.
Kentucky took advantage to drive 75 yards for MacGinnis’ 22-yard field goal early in the fourth before getting within 14-9 with his 45-yard kick with 11 minutes left.
While Florida wasn’t exactly sharp offensively either, the Gators got untracked long enough in the second quarter to drive 57 yards in 10 plays for Kelvin Taylor’s 3-yard TD run with 5:31 left in the half. Grier chipped in effective running and efficient passing, though he was intercepted by J.D. Harmon in the end zone midway through the third quarter.
Kentucky still had one last chance, but Towles was intercepted by Quincy Wilson with 33 seconds left.
The Wildcats came in believing they were in the best position to end a generation of misery against Florida and snap college football’s longest losing streak against an opponent. They beat South Carolina 26-22 on the road last week and were primed to finally close the deal against Florida after falling short 36-30 in three overtimes in The Swamp last fall.
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