Gators take advantage of Kentucky turnovers in blowout victory

By Adam Pincus

Independent Florida Alligator, U. Florida via UWIRE

Gators take advantage of Kentucky turnovers in blowout victory

Jaylen Watkins made sure he didn’t waste another opportunity.

After dropping an interception against Bowling Green, the junior picked off a Morgan Newton pass with 8 minutes left in the second quarter for his first career interception and his first defensive touchdown.

No. 14 Florida (4-0, 3-0 SEC) picked off three Kentucky (1-3, 0-1 SEC) passes en route to a 38-0 shutout in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Saturday marked the first time Florida shut out a conference opponent since defeating Mississippi State by 52 on Sept. 29, 2001 and the 26th-straight time Florida has beaten Kentucky.

“We went over this before the game,” Watkins said. “I watched the film at home. The guys running a stack formation and I knew it was coming. Playing Bowling Green I didn’t go up and get it, and I dropped it. I was like it was not going to happen this time.”

Newton, a senior, started in place of sophomore Maxwell Smith still nursing a shoulder injury. Smith led the Southeastern Conference in passing yardage with 966 yards before Saturday.

Florida didn’t know of the change until game time, but it didn’t make a difference who Kentucky had under center, linebacker Mike Taylor said

“Our coaches give us a great scheme,” Taylor said. “We just read his eyes. He went through his progressions and as he was going through his progression, we were reading him as well.”

Running back Mike Gillislee started the touchdown scoring for Florida with a one-yard run with 12 minutes left in the second quarter pushing the lead to 10 points.

Then Newton became a consistent source of offense for Florida.

Safety De’Ante Saunders and Taylor added interceptions in the second quarter.

“We moved the ball offensively, but our turnovers didn’t give us a chance field position wise,” Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. “In the second quarter, we got put in a hole, and our defense had to go back on the field a couple of times in a row.”

With three takeaways against Kentucky, Florida moved its turnover margin to plus-2. The Gators finished last season at minus-12. Florida generated three or more turnovers in a game last season only once.

“The fact that they (the coaches) have emphasized it so much,” Taylor said. “’Turnover. Turnover. Rip. Rip. Interception.’ Eventually you get tired of it and you want to do something about it. We got tired of it.”

Newton completing just a third of his passes for the lowest completion percentage against the Gators all season.

A consistent pass rush allowed Florida to drop into coverage.

“Let’s just rush four guys and that’s what we were able to do and get some turnovers and positive momentum for our team,” Gators coach Will Muschamp said. “It’s a huge emphasis for our team. Dan [Quinn] does it better than anybody in the country. He spends more time showing film, showing ways to strip the ball. We’re always thinking about that and I think we’re making progress.”

Although the Gators moved to 4-0 for the second-straight season, this is a different squad, Muschamp said.

Florida has a bye next week before taking on No. 2 LSU at home.

“We’ve got to continue to press forward,” Muschamp said. “We’re not where we want to be. We’ve got a lot of things to clean up, a lot of errors here and there than we need to clean up as we move forward.”

Florida’s defense picked up a sluggish offense that was missing receiver Trey Burton due to what Muschamp described as back spasms.

Burton scored two touchdowns last week against Tennessee.

Kentucky outgained Florida in the first quarter by 12 yards, but methodical drives kept the Gators’ defense off the field and kept them fresh.

Quarterback Jeff Driskel engineered a season best 15-play 72-yard drive that lasted nine minutes in the third quarter.

As a group, the Florida defense had its best performance of the season in the passing game.

Watkins last scored a defensive touchdown as a junior in high school, but his interception meant more than just six points.

“Last year, I don’t know if people said it, but as corners, we had one interception,” Watkins said. “It was Marcus (Roberson). So it felt pretty bad, not giving our offense the ball because they hold the ball. Now, they’re holding the ball, and now we’re giving them the ball. So it’s all a team effort. So it feels good to actually get that monkey off our back.”

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