LEXINGTON, Ky. — When the Gators arrived at Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday night, they were an emotionally spent team with a first-time starting quarterback about to play his first SEC road game.
Coach Will Muschamp was concerned. So he reminded his players that the loss of starting quarterback Jeff Driskel and starting defensive tackle Dominique Easley to season-ending injuries in a span of three days could not derail their season.
"I told our players no excuses and no regrets," Muschamp said.
They responded in kind, led by quarterback Tyler Murphy.
On the first drive of his first collegiate start, the redshirt junior led the No. 20 Gators 93 yards over 13 plays, setting the tone for a 24-7 victory over Kentucky.
It was the 27th consecutive win for the Gators (3-1, 2-0 SEC) over Kentucky (1-3, 0-1), extending the nation's longest win streak over a major opponent in an annual series and the longest streak by one SEC team over another in an uninterrupted series.
"It's been a long week for us psychologically," Muschamp said. "You can't always control your circumstances in life, but you can control your vision.
"I'm very pleased with how our guys pulled together and came up here and did what we did."
Murphy, who had never thrown a collegiate pass when he took over for Driskel seven days earlier against Tennessee, finished 15-of-18 for 156 yards, a touchdown and an interception. He also ran seven times for 36 yards and a touchdown.
He was 11-of-11 for 120 yards in the first half and completed his first 13 passes. All three of Florida's scoring drives were longer than 60 yards, and it didn't punt.
"I felt really calm," Murphy said. "I had the support of my teammates all week, and they showed up and made big plays for me. It made my job really easy. I just had to focus one play at a time."
Sophomore Matt Jones also was a catalyst with a career-high 176 yards on 28 carries. His 2-yard run capped the opening drive and made it 7-0.
Kentucky answered with its only score of the game — a 10-play, 75-yard drive capped by a 25-yard run on a fake field goal by kicker Joe Monsour that made it 7-7 with 2:07 remaining in the first quarter.
When Murphy did make a mistake, he helped himself. He threw his only interception during the third quarter but made a touchdown-saving tackle on linebacker Josh Forrest after chasing him down just past midfield.
"That was a nice little athletic play even though we don't like to see our quarterbacks tackling people," said defensive tackle Dante Fowler, who had five tackles and two sacks. "He went for the legs. He'll be a nice little cornerback."
The defense took care of the rest. Freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, making his first collegiate start, had a leaping interception in the end zone to end the scoring threat.
The Gators defense, which entered No. 1 in the SEC, allowed the long drive early but buckled down. It allowed 173 total yards (48 rushing), 10 during the third quarter. UF has given up just three field goals in the second and third quarters of four games this season.
"We didn't start the game off well defensively," Muschamp said. "But (the Wildcats) had a week off, and they gave us some new stuff. But we adjusted to it.
"Overall, I'm really proud of our football team."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]