GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Drenched in sweat and flush from screaming, coach Will Muschamp celebrated Florida’s latest victory against Kentucky about like any other.
He hugged players, high-fived fans and walked across Florida Field with his wife.
”I don’t really feel relief after games,” Muschamp said.
He may have been the only one wearing orange and blue who didn’t sense a huge weight lifted Saturday night after a triple-overtime thriller that was arguably the most dramatic in series history.
Florida (2-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) needed two fortunate bounces, what appeared to be a blown play-clock violation, a huge fourth-down conversion, a missed field goal and a record-setting night from receiver Demarcus Robinson to put away the pesky Wildcats (2-1, 0-1) for the 28th consecutive year.
While the close call provided Kentucky with more proof that the program seems to be headed in the right direction under second-year coach Mark Stoops, it also stirred more debate about Muschamp’s future in Gainesville.
”Our guys fought,” Muschamp said. ”It wasn’t always pretty at times.”
That’s been the case for the last four years, really.
And it’s not going to get any easier with a trip to third-ranked Alabama up next. Florida’s flaws – and there were plenty of them against Kentucky – could be even further exposed.
The Gators’ secondary struggled, looking lost in coverage at times and getting on deep balls repeatedly.
Kentucky’s Patrick Towles completed 24 of 45 passes for 369 yards, with three touchdowns and three interceptions. Garrett Johnson caught six passes for 154 yards, including two long-ball scores.
Muschamp said Kentucky managed 173 of its 450 yards on six big plays.
”We’ve got to cover better,” said Muschamp, who spends a lot of time working with defensive backs. ”Bottom line, that’s my responsibility and we’ll improved on it. … We need to play the ball better. In some situations, we didn’t. That was very frustrating.”
Passing-game problems had to be equally discouraging for the Gators, who snapped a five-game losing streak in conference play.
Jeff Driskel completed 25 of 43 passes for 295 yards, with three touchdowns and an interception. But he showed little, if any, improvement with his pocket presence and was off most of the night with his long-ball accuracy.
He held the ball too long at times, was late to scramble and missed several open receivers. It didn’t help that Latroy Pittman and Clay Burton dropped passes early or that the offensive line failed to pick up some third-down blitzes late.
”Missed some things early,” Driskel said. ”Things weren’t going good for us, but we never hung our head or got away from our game plan. Sometimes, when things aren’t going your way, you’ve got to keep moving forward, and that’s what we did.”
Plenty did go right for Florida.
Robinson was nearly unstoppable, catching 15 passes for 216 yards and two touchdowns. He tied the school record for single-game receptions set by Carlos Alvarez in 1969. Robinson also became the first Florida player since Jabar Gaffney in 2001 to post consecutive 100-yard receiving games and the first to top 200 yards since Taylor Jacobs in 2002.
”I had fun out there,” said Robinson, a sophomore who had five catches last season while missing several games because of suspension. ”Definitely had a bad season last year, but stayed focused and stayed humble through the off time.”
Robinson was targeted 21 times, none bigger than the fourth-and-7 play in the first overtime.
Driskel floated a ball to the back of the end zone for a 9-yard score that helped send the game into a second extra frame.
”That’s plays that you live for, especially when you make them,” Driskel said. ”You can’t let the situation be too big. We were lucky enough to get the ball off and execute.”
Lucky would be an apt description.
Replays appeared to show the officials should have flagged the Gators for delay of game.
That was one of several breaks for Florida, which also made two big plays on deflections and took advantage of a missed 41-yard field goal to start the third overtime. Kentucky looked deflated after Austin MacGinnis pushed his kick right, and Florida’s Matt Jones plunged in from a yard out four plays later for the game-winner.
The Gators – well, everyone aside from Muschamp – were relieved.
”There’s going to be games like that when you play in our conference, and you’ve got to find ways to win those games,” Muschamp said. ”Our guys found a way to win the game. That’s a huge positive, and it shows some resiliency and fighting through adversity.”