No. 9 Florida rallies past Kentucky 29-21 in SEC opener
LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) — Initially stunned by seeing Feleipe Franks lying in pain on the turf, Florida players soon swarmed the cart carrying him to uplift him — and then each other.
The No. 9 Gators then regrouped behind backup Kyle Trask to overwhelm Kentucky for an emotional victory.
Trask relieved the injured Franks and rallied Florida with three fourth-quarter touchdown drives, including his go-ahead, 4-yard scoring run with 4:11 remaining that lifted the Gators to a 29-21 victory Saturday night.
Franks, the Gators’ third-year starter, was carted off with a right leg injury late in the third quarter with his team trailing 21-10. Stopped for no gain by Calvin Taylor on fourth-and-1 at the Kentucky 38, Franks appeared to bend backward on the tackle. Medical personnel came on the field and placed an inflatable cast under his right leg and he was taken off to applause from the sellout crowd of 63,076.
“When he went down, you could see something wrong with the leg,” Trask said. “At the end of the day, I’m proud of the resiliency of the team. He (Franks) was really emotional at that moment. I let him know, ‘I had your back.’”
Gators coach Dan Mullen had no immediate update on Franks’ condition but said afterward, “They feel pretty certain there was a break or dislocation, so he will be out for the year. That will be a huge loss for us.”
Trask’s gutsy leadership in a pinch offered an upside.
He entered and led Florida (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) on a 62-yard drive, ending with Lamical Perine’s 8-yard TD run to get the Gators within 21-16. Shawn Davis’s interception with 6:05 to go gave the Gators another opportunity, and Trask capitalized with his go-ahead touchdown.
The two-point conversion failed, though, and Kentucky (2-1, 0-1) had a final chance to regain the lead. But Chance Poore’s 35-yard field-goal attempt with 54 seconds left was wide right, and Josh Hammond’s 76-yard TD run three plays later helped Florida avenge last year’s loss in Gainesville.
The happy Gators then gathered in a corner Kroger Field to celebrate the hard-fought win with their fans before running and jumping on their way to a happy locker room.
“Still have a long way to go,” Mullen added. “Came on the road and in a very tough environment and got a big win. We found ways to win.”
Kentucky, on the other hand, was left wondering what could have been despite a strong beginning from its newly-minted starting QB.
Sawyer Smith accounted for all three Kentucky touchdowns with scoring passes of 26 and 13 yards sandwiched around his 2-yard run. Making his first Kentucky start a week after Terry Wilson was lost for the season with a torn left patellar tendon, the junior completed his first nine passes for 119 yards. He finished 23 of 35 passing for 267 yards, but also threw three interceptions including one as the game ended.
“We had an opportunity with a couple of plays, but we fell short,” Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said. “We’ll come back and continue to work.”
The game featured three ejections for targeting, two by Kentucky. Free safety Yusuf Corker was cited for a first-quarter hit in the end zone, and defensive end T.J. Carter was penalized in the fourth on a sack of Trask.
Florida lost cornerback Donovan Stiner after a third-quarter hit on Kentucky’s 6-foot-5 receiver Ahmad Wagner on a 20-yard completion.
Florida grabbed the early lead as Franks hit a wide-open Freddie Swain with a 26-yard TD pass. Two years ago, Swain was all alone for a 5-yard TD reception with 33 seconds left to cap the Gators’ rally from 13 down for a 28-27 win here.
Florida should remain in the top 10 after an emotional victory in Lexington.
Florida’s immediate concern is moving forward without Franks, who was 12 of 17 for 174 yards and 15-yard TD to wide-open Freddie Swain before the injury. Franks also committed two turnovers, with a fumble leading to Kentucky’s go-ahead touchdown, but the Gators would prefer to have the veteran on the field as they hit the meat of the SEC schedule. The Gators won despite managing just one sack after entering the contest with a nation’s-best 15.
Kentucky’s offense operated well behind Smith and seemed in control midway through the third quarter. But his costly interception, a failed fourth down early in the fourth quarter and a defensive letdown allowed Florida to rally, ending any chance of consecutive wins against Florida for the first time since 1976-77. They now must bounce back on the road.
Florida hosts Tennessee on Saturday.
Kentucky visits Mississippi State on Saturday.