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September 28, 2013It was trickery that gave Kentucky its lone shining moment against Florida on Saturday, some slick sleight-of-hand that made it seem for a moment that the Wildcats had a chance to snap a decades-long losing streak to the Gators.
Mark Stoops isn't so easily fooled.
The Cats had some chances at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday, but they were few, far between and rarely seized in a 24-7 loss, Kentucky's 27th straight to Florida.
And none of that surprised Stoops.
"I just felt like it was uphill from the beginning," Stoops said. "Again, give (Florida) credit. I thought they were in control of it."
There was a moment when the Gators weren't, a brief, magical moment when UK kicker Joe Mansour tied the game at 7-7 on a 25-yard touchdown run off a fake field goal.
But the Gators didn't need gimmicks.
Florida (3-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) controlled both lines of scrimmage. The Gators' offense marched on long, punishing drives and its defense -- statistically the best in the nation -- stifled the Wildcats (1-3, 0-1) through the air and on the ground.
Had Kentucky "made a play or two," Stoops said, it might at least have hung tough a little longer. But the Gators held the ball for 38:09 to Kentucky's 21:51 and limited the Cats to 173 yards of total offense.
"Right from the opening drive, they kind of set the tone of what the night was going to be like," Stoops said. "It's a very good football team, very physical football team. We had a few opportunities to make it a game, and didn't make them. It was going to be hard. We knew that going into it."
That opening drive was a 13-play, 93-yard scoring drive that Florida capped with a 2-yard touchdown run by Matt Jones. Mansour's heroics tied the game after a quarter, but Gators quarterback Tyler Murphy threw a touchdown pass and ran for a score in the second quarter -- payoffs on drives of 79 and 62 yards -- and Kentucky never was much of a threat from there.
"I think our players fought all the way until the end," defensive coordinator D.J. Eliot said. "I don't think they ever quit. And that's something that you can build on. They've got the fight in 'em right now. We've just got to get better at finishing drives and executing at times."
Kentucky is getting better. Stoops is sure of that.
But he remains a realist.
A Commonwealth Stadium crowd announced at 62,076 was electric after Mansour's score, buzzing with the hope that a Florida team missing its starting quarterback, Jeff Driskel, and its best defensive player, tackle Dominique Easley was primed for an upset.
Stoops had hopes, too. But always a dose of reality.
"One or two guys don't make a difference," Stoops said. "We were there. I was there a year ago (at Florida State). We lost the best player on our defense the first game. It didn't affect us one bit. They got a lot of good players. They have very good coaches. They're good at what they do. That's what we're aiming to get to."
And the Cats appreciate that the climb will take time.
"If you look at our schedule, we got South Carolina next week and then Alabama the week after that," wide receiver Ryan Timmons said. "So it's not going to get any easier from here. We just got to learn from it and keep going."
Though the Cats weren't much of an upset threat Saturday, they took a step.
Florida's margin of victory was its narrowest against Kentucky since 2007. Even in the second half, a play here or there might have given the Cats a chance to claw into the game.
UK is a long way from finishing.
But this is a start.
"Yeah, we know it's going to be a process," Stoops said. "Again, I'm not discouraged. We're going to go back to work. Our team's going to go back to work. I've been happy with the way we're preparing, going about our business. We know we're not there yet but we're going to keep on trying."