LEXINGTON, Ky. — Florida’s Tyler Murphy completed his first 13 passes as the Gators’ starting quarterback, former Armwood standout Matt Jones rushed for 176 yards and the defense was especially stingy when needed most as UF beat Kentucky for the 27th straight season, 24-7 on Saturday.
The Florida (3-1) defense held Kentucky (1-3) to a combined 59 yards in the second and third quarters, and 173 for the game.
It was a trying seven days for the Gators, who lost starting quarterback Jeff Driskel to a broken leg early in last week’s 31-17 win against Tennessee and star defensive tackle Dominique Easley to a season-ending knee injury earlier in the week.
“We had a couple of setbacks,’’ UF coach Will Muschamp said. “No one really cares. No one is going to feel sorry for us.’’
Dante Fowler stepped up to have a couple of sacks, giving him a team-high three for the year, while Jon Bullard moved inside to help make up for the loss of Easley.
“We just wanted to go out and play for him, basically,’’ Fowler said of being without Easley.
The defense gave up 48 net yards rushing (2.3 per attempt).
“They really controlled both lines of scrimmage the entire game,’’ Wildcats first-year coach Mark Stoops said. “Very physical team. Right from the opening drive, they kind of set the tone of what the night was going to be like.’’
At the same time, Murphy didn’t miss a beat in Driskel’s place, finishing 15-of-18 for 156 yards.
“I had a few nerves, like every other game,’’ he said. But those went away quickly with a game-opening 13-play drive that went for 93 yards and ended with Jones scoring from 2 yards out.
Jones said he hasn’t felt like his old self in the first couple of games, still trying to come back from a viral infection that landed him in the hospital in preseason.
“This is what I was grinding for (during the summer) was games like this,’’ said Jones, who carried the ball 28 times, including 18 in the second half.
While the Gators didn’t punt in the game, most of the Gators’ impressive drives came in the first half, as UF turned to the running game in the final two quarters.
Florida’s defense virtually closed the door on the Wildcats’ offense, allowing just five first downs in the second half.
Florida’s opening drive of the game took more than seven minutes, ending with Jones scoring the TD from 2 yards.
Kentucky got even when holder Jared Leet flipped the ball to kicker Joe Mansour on a fake field goal and Mansour ran 25 yards untouched for the score with 1:46 left in the first quarter.
Jones gained 67 yards on a drive in the second quarter, and he was tripped by receiver Quinton Dunbar when he had an open field to score.
But two plays later, Murphy hit Trey Burton for a 9-yard score — giving him eight straight completions to open the game.
Murphy made it 21-7 with another long drive at the end of the second quarter, this one 62 yards, and it was finished off by the junior quarterback’s 5-yard score.
“He’s a very cerebral kid,’’ Muschamp said of Murphy. “Very smart. He gets the game.’’