Florida vs. Kentucky: 10 Things We Learned in the Gators' Win
A victory over the Florida Gators remained elusive for Kentucky for the 27th consecutive time in their head-to-head series.
Following a rough two-game stretch, the Gators finally had reasons to smile after a solid 24-7 win against their SEC East counterparts.
From Tyler Murphy's first start to the dominance of the Gators defense, the game left Florida fans with plenty of talking points.
Tyler Murphy Can Manage a Game
Murphy's first start as a Gator was, for the most part, successful.
His performance in the first quarter was outstanding, and he remained perfect through the rest of the first half. He showed his ability to improvise on a long completion to Quinton Dunbar, and he also proved he can work the sidelines.
His interception in the third quarter was undeniably ugly, but that was his only real mistake. From that point, all he had to do was hand the ball off to Matt Jones and Mack Brown.
It is only Kentucky, but Murphy's performance Saturday night is definitely reason for optimism. He looked poised and very calm in the pocket.
Matt Jones Is Back
Speaking of Matt Jones, you can officially insert him back into your breakout player conversations.
He tallied 196 total yards and scored the game's opening touchdown. He could have had another one if Dunbar didn't trip him en route to the end zone.
Still, he was the catalyst for the Florida offense Saturday night. His tough running in the second half drained the clock and prevented the Wildcats from making a comeback.
Jones finally ran like a man on a mission. He put his head down and simply bowled through, which until Saturday night hadn't happened.
The Gators Can Start Fast
Unlike against Miami and Tennessee, the Gators actually started strong and scored on their first drive.
It was impressive as well. Starting from their own 6-yard line, they marched down the field over the course of nearly eight minutes. Murphy completed all of his passes, finding Jones, Trey Burton and even Demarcus Robinson.
The Gators converted all three of their third downs as well.
If they can start like that in every single game, the defense will be able to relax instead of taking chances. They will also win more football games.
Trey Burton Will Miss Kentucky
If Trey Burton played every game against Kentucky, he would be a Heisman Trophy contender.
Everyone remembers his six-touchdown breakthrough against the Cats in 2010. Although he didn't match that Saturday night, he made plenty of plays.
Aside from his touchdown, Burton found open space on a number of occasions to keep drives alive. His six catches on the night allowed him to set a new personal best for receiving yards in a single season.
Burton is an X-factor for the Gators this season. If he can translate this quick start into a great 2013 campaign, the offense can take off and be effective.
The Gators Can Eat Up Clock
The Gators dominated the time-of-possession battle in this game because of their ground attack.
At this point, it's apparent that Florida will not beat you with 50-yard bombs down the field. The offense is at its best when it can repeatedly grind out solid yardage and convert on manageable third downs.
That strategy worked beautifully Saturday night. Jones and Brown plowed ahead on the ground, and Murphy made a conversion when he needed to. It's a simple plan, but it can be very effective.
Kentucky had little time to mount a serious comeback because the Gators continuously ran the clock down and held possession. If they can do that against a high-powered offense like Georgia, they can get back in the title conversation.
The Play Clock Is a Problem
If there was one thing that gave Will Muschamp a few grey hairs Saturday night, it was Florida's inability to beat the play clock.
The Gators had to burn all three of their first-half timeouts within the game's first 20 or so minutes in order to prevent numerous delay-of-game penalties.
Although they showed a little more urgency in the second half, the problem continued throughout the rest of the game.
It was probably due to Murphy's inexperience at the helm of the offense, but it needs to be corrected no matter the cause. Penalties like that will kill Florida's chances against LSU and other SEC contenders.
Vernon Hargreaves Is the Best Player in the Gators Secondary
It has only taken Vernon Hargreaves III one month to assert himself as the best corner on the Gators roster.
On his interception, his coverage was as tight as any Gators fan could ask for. Not to mention, he put his body control on full display, twisting in midair to take control of the ball.
More importantly, he made a number of plays throughout the entire game. Any intermediate passes thrown in his direction were bound to be incomplete.
He has three interceptions already, and he's a true freshman. Just let that sink in.
It will be interesting to see how he fares against the upper tier of SEC teams.
The Defense Will Be Fine Without Easley
No Dominique Easley? No problem, at least in this game.
Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler had fantastic games. On one drive, Fowler motored his way past all Kentucky linemen twice and came away with two sacks.
As already mentioned, Hargreaves was fantastic in coverage.
Basically, the entire unit was fantastic. Kentucky's offense struggled to move the ball past the 50-yard line.
Easley is a big loss, but the Gators can recover and move forward.
Austin Hardin Is Struggling
Austin Hardin's status as the starting kicker may be in severe jeopardy.
He was already in Muschamp's doghouse prior to the game, and his missed field goal on Florida's second drive didn't help matters.
He did hit one later in the game from 33 yards, but even that one elicited a deep gasp as the ball barely squeaked past the upright.
Hardin's inexperience is totally apparent, and it could turn into a big problem moving forward.
The Gators Can Beat the Teams They're Supposed to Beat
Although the Gators ultimately fell to Miami, they were able to post solid victories against Tennessee and now Kentucky.
So we know they are still a step ahead of the bottom half of the SEC.
What we don't know is if they can compete with the big boys in Athens, Columbia and Baton Rouge.
Murphy has played well, but until he can do so against an elite defense, the jury is still out on Florida's overall expectations. Likewise, the defense may or may not be able to keep up its torrid pace.
The Gators have recovered nicely, though, and that's a good sign.