No. 20 Kentucky intercepted Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson twice, including one Keidron Smith returned 65 yards for a touchdown, and the Wildcats toppled 12th-ranked Florida 26-16 on Saturday in the Swamp to notch consecutive wins in the series for the first time in 45 years.
Richardson was off all night, a stark contrast from last week’s three-touchdown, turnover-free performance against then-No. 7 Utah. He had two throws in this one that were complete head-scratchers, and the Wildcats (2-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) made him pay dearly.
Linebacker Jordan Wright, cleared to play Thursday after sitting out the opener, made a one-handed catch on Richardson’s pass to the flat late in the second quarter. Will Levis scored three plays later.
Richardson’s second pick was more egregious. He seemingly misread a defensive alignment and threw a pass to the wide side of the field that Smith easily picked off. Smith returned it down the sideline and had to juke only Richardson to make it to the end zone.
It was the third of three big plays that gave Kentucky back-to-back wins over Florida (1-1, 0-1) for the first time since 1976-77.
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Levis connected with Dane Key for a 55-yard score in the first half, a throw that showed why Levis is projected to be a first-round draft pick in 2023.
Twenty-two scouts from 15 NFL teams were on hand for the game. Most of them probably were there to see Richardson. None of them could have been impressed with what the third-year sophomore did in his third career start.
The Gainesville native completed 14 of 35 passes for 143 yards. He also ran six times for 4 yards. Kentucky stacked the line of scrimmage and forced Richardson to be a pocket passer, clearly understanding that the Gators have few difference-makers outside of their quarterback who looked like a budding star seven days earlier.
Levis was considerably better. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 202 yards, with a touchdown and an interception. The pick was a great play by Florida defenders Brenton Cox and Gervon Dexter. Cox pressured Levis and deflected the pass, and Dexter made a diving catch.
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Kentucky: The Wildcats are far from soft. SEC Network analyst Roman Harper called the Cats “a little bit softer” than Florida on the Paul Finebaum Show earlier this week, and Kentucky players vowed to use it as motivation. Kentucky was dominant in the second half, outscoring the Gators 13-0 after intermission.
Florida: The Gators spent the last week getting patted on the back after beating Utah and may have been ripe for a letdown. Regardless, the Wildcats exposed weaknesses and showed Florida still has a long ways to go under first-year coach Billy Napier if it wants to catch up in the SEC East.
With No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 8 Notre Dame losing at home earlier Saturday, Florida had a chance to move into the top 10 in the next AP college football poll. Instead, the Gators are sure to fall behind Kentucky.
The victory moved coach Mark Stoops past Paul “Bear” Bryant for the most wins (61) in Kentucky’s football history.
Kentucky free safety Jalen Geiger was carted off the field in the second quarter with what appeared to be a serious leg injury. Team trainers placed an air cast on his left leg before helping him onto the cart and driving him off the field.
Florida right tackle Michael Tarquin injured his right ankle in the second and limped to the sideline. Austin Barber replaced him.
Kentucky: Hosts Youngstown State of the Football Championship Subdivision next Saturday. Stoops was born in Youngstown, Ohio.
Florida: Hosts South Florida next Saturday, the Gators’ third home game in as many weeks. Florida is 2-0 in the in-state series, winning in 2010 and 2021.