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Gators Struggle Early, Lead Kentucky 14-10 After Toney Punt Return TD

Demetrius Harvey

The No. 6 Florida Gators entered today’s contest in perhaps its best shape all season in terms of its health after star tight end Kyle Pitts was deemed available, making his presence known early as Florida heads into halftime leading Kentucky 14-10 thanks to a late punt return touchdown by receiver Kadarius Toney.

Facing off against the Kentucky Wildcats, who were missing 16 players, primarily on offense, due to various issues related to injuries and COVID-19 protocols, Florida shaped up to have a successful day.

Prior to the start of the contest, the Gators released its unavailable list. The list included several depth players and just one perceived key contributor in linebacker Jeremiah Moon.

Here are the rest of the Gators’ unavailable players: David Reese, Jeremiah Moon, Kahleil Jackson, Ethan Pouncey, Lamar Goods, Hayden Knighton, Jaelin Humphries, Trent Whittemore, Lucas Alonso.

The Gators began this game with a hot start, preventing Kentucky to do much of anything on its first two possessions, including one that the Wildcats converted a fourth down on. Key players such as Brenton Cox (one sack), TJ Slaton (two tackles-for-loss), Mohamoud Diabate and Zach Carter (.5 sack each), would make plays to slow down the Kentucky offense.

While the defense did start off strong, it would break down following a Gators turnover, a fumble by wide receiver Justin Shorter on the plus-side of the field, allowing for a short field for Kentucky and an easy red zone touchdown to tight end Keaton Upshaw who out-muscled Gators safety Donovan Stiner in the end zone.

On offense, Florida saw the fruits of Pitts’ return fairly early as the tight end would score a 56-yard touchdown on the team’s first possession.

The Gators’ offense would not be as successful as the game wore on through the first half, however. Following the team’s first-quarter touchdown, the Florida offense would punt and turn the ball over with just 5 minutes and 37 seconds of time of possession deep into the second quarter.

With the score tied at 7-7, the Florida defense would allow a 14-play, 87-yard scoring drive that led to a field goal for Kentucky near the end of the half. Kentucky possessed the football for 7:24, effectively nullifying any chance of the Gators getting in rhythm on offense after its punt.

During the drive, Gators head coach Dan Mullen was seen fired up on the sideline talking to defensive coordinator Todd Grantham shortly after the team’s defense allowed a 19-yard run by quarterback Terry Wilson on third-and-10.

Due in part to its inability to get off the field on defense, the Gators were unable to possess the football much during the first half of the game, possessing the football for just 6 minutes and 37 seconds. 

The Gators would have an opportunity to score heading into halftime, but ultimately would be forced to punt the football yet again as a holding call derailed the drive. Trask would end the half by completing 11 out of 15 of his passes for 144 yards and a touchdown.

Just three wide receivers for Florida received first-half targets, Rick Wells, Kadarius Toney and Shorter.

Defensively, after allowing minimal gains through the first quarter of action, the Gators allowed a total of 174 net yards, including 125 rushing yards.

As everything was drawing to a close in the first half, Toney would take a 40-yard Wildcats punt, 50 yards for a touchdown to give the Gators a halftime lead.

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