GatorZone.com Senior Writer
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Tyler Murphy passed for a touchdown and ran for another Saturday night and tailback Matt Jones rushed for a career-high 176 yards and a score as the 20th-ranked Florida Gators defeated Kentucky 24-7 and captured their Southeastern Conference road opener at Commonwealth Stadium.
Make that 27 straight wins for the Gators (3-1, 2-0) in the series, dating to 1987. That's the longest current winning streak for one team over another in the nation and now the longest by any program in SEC history.
Murphy, the fourth-year junior from Connecticut making his first career start, completed 15 of 18 passes -- including his first 13 attempts -- for 156 yards, including a 9-yard scoring strike to Trey Burton in the second quarter and later in the period added a 5-yard TD run on an option keeper. He was intercepted once.
On the whole, it was an impressive display for Murphy and picked up where he left off last week when he replaced starter Jeff Driskel (broken leg) and helped lead the Gators to a home win over Tennessee.
He made one big mistake in the third period when he stared down his receiver and was intercepted by linebacker Josh Forrest, who returned the ball 38 yards to the UF 38. Five plays later, though, UK quarterback Maxwell Smith's heave into the end zone was intercepted by leaping true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, his third pick of the season.
The Hargreaves play was the signature moment on a night when UF's defense put together another overwhelming display. UK's lone points of the night came in the first quarter when the Wildcats executed a picture-perfect fake field goal and placekicker Joe Mansour ran 25 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 7-all.
The Gators scored the game's next 17 points, finishing with 402 yards of total offense. Their defensive counterparts held the Wildcats (1-3, 0-1) to 173 yards, sacked UK quarterbacks five times and limited the Cats to 1-for-8 on third down.
Murphy's touchdown run late in the second quarter capped a nine-play, 62-yard drive, highlighted by a 19-yard completion to Burton. HIs touchdown pass came two plays after Jones, the sophomore tailback, had a 67-yard run that only ended because wide receiver Quinton Dunbar, trying to position himself to block some UK defenders, tripped his man to the ground. The Gators scored anyway, making it a 3-play, 79-yard drive in just 1:32.
It was an impressive march, but not as impressive as the one Murphy led his teammates on to start the game.
After a holding penalty on the opening kickoff stuck the Gators in a hole at their own 7, Murphy took his team 93 yards on 13 plays to give the Gators a 7-0 lead after the game's first possession. The drive was the longest TD march -- in yards, plays and time consumed (7:47) -- for UF this season and was capped when Jones went around left end for his 2-yard scoring run on third-and-goal.
Jones went on to carry 28 times on the night.
On Kentucky's first possession, the Wildcats drove to the UF 42-yard line, but a sack and penalty forced the UK into a third-and-long that came up short.
Enter Mansour for a 42-yard field goal attempt on fourth-and-9.
Instead of kicking the ball, Mansour took a pitchout from his holder, sprinted around the right side and raced untouched into the end zone to tie the game. The play came against the first-team UF defense, which remained on the field in the situation yet was caught completely off guard. No defender was remotely close to the area in the right flat, with the 6-foot-2, 189-pound Mansour hitting the sideline and beating the Gators to the pylon.
The Gators had a nice drive going, but an illegal formation penalty nullified a first-down reception inside the Wildcats 25 and after a sack of Murphy, Austin Hardin was well short on a 53-yard field attempt.
The next time the Gators got the ball, Jones, Murphy and Burton did their thing.
Murphy capped the series after that with his scoring run out of the pistol formation.
Kentucky reached UF territory twice in the second half, but was turned away by Hargreaves the first time (third quarter) and on downs the second time (fourth quarter), with the Gators taking control and behind Jones basically ran out the clock.