On a day when the Florida offense couldn't keep from hurting itself, Ciatrick Fason was its saving grace.
The junior running back rushed for 210 yards on 31 carries to lead No. 16 Florida to a 20-3 win over Kentucky at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday.
It was the fourth-best rushing performance in Florida history, the kind of game Fason said he needed to help ease the pain of last weekend's two-point loss to Tennessee.
"The loss last week to Tennessee was haunting me all week," Fason said. "I figured the only way to get that off my mind was by winning today. It's off my mind now."
Fason's career game was the highlight of an otherwise lackluster showing for the Gators offense. Despite gaining 523 yards, Florida (2-1, 1-1 SEC) struggled.
Sophomore quarterback Chris Leak threw three interceptions. Matt Leach missed two field goals. The Gators made it inside the red zone twice and couldn't score, not including when they ran out the clock in the fourth quarter. Eight times, they were inside the Kentucky 30 but scored just two touchdowns.
"I know we didn't exactly play the game we needed to play, but that happens," Florida coach Ron Zook said.
"During the course of the game, and over the year, you are going to have days like that. You still have to get in there and win those games."
Florida's opening drive included a balanced attack of rushing and passing but stalled on Leak's first interception, a pass over the middle that landed in the hands of linebacker Chad Anderson. At the time, the Gators had a first down at the Kentucky 23.
"Kentucky played great as a defense, and you have to credit them for making plays there," Leak said.
"That is just one of the things that we have got to work on."
Kentucky (1-2, 0-1) went on a 14-play, 56-yard drive that ended with a 51-yard field goal by Taylor Begley and Kentucky's only lead with 6:06 remaining in the first quarter.
Leak completed passes to six receivers, but the only touchdowns came from Fason. He scored on a 46-yard run (a drive that took just 12 seconds) to give Florida a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter then caught a 7-yard pass from Leak with 4:08 left in the game.
"C-4 (Fason) really stepped up and played," linebacker Channing Crowder said. "He's fun to watch. The whole defense stands and watches the replay screen when he's running."
Leach, who missed a 21-yard field goal last weekend, missed two from 47 yards on Saturday with one blocked. He converted field goals of 40 and 21 yards. Leak entered the game sixth in the nation in passing efficiency but finished 25-of-43 for 261 yards.
"Obviously, he was off this week, but I am not concerned," Zook said. "You see that all the time with quarterbacks. He's still the real deal, and no quarterback can play every game 1,000 percent."
After giving up 30 points last weekend, Florida held Kentucky without a touchdown and had an interception (Terrence Holmes) and a fumble recovery (Crowder). Versatile Kentucky quarterback Shane Boyd was 17-of-35 for 134 yards. He entered the game averaging 74 rushing yards but was held to 28.
"The front seven felt like we had to come in and play much better this week," linebacker Travis Harris said. "We feel like we're a good defense and we needed to show it. The game plan was to stop the run and stop No. 7 (Boyd), and we feel like we contained him well."
Kentucky coach Rich Brooks said the biggest problems were the offense couldn't get in synch and its defense played too much.
"The unfortunate thing is I thought we had some opportunities, particularly early," Brooks said. "The defense was bending, not breaking. The bottom line is we were keeping them out of the end zone. I'm proud of the effort."
Florida reached the Kentucky 30 10 times Saturday but scored only four times. It reached the 6 on its last drive before running out the clock. The other drives:
INTERCEPTION I: On their first possession, the Gators drove 39 yards in nine plays to the 23 before Chris Leak was intercepted by Chad Anderson at the 10.
INTERCEPTION II: On third and goal from the 4 late in the first half, Leak was intercepted by Muhammad Abdullah in the end zone, ending a 15-play, 71-yard drive.
GOING FOR IT . . . AND FAILING: On fourth and goal during the third, Chad Jackson caught a pass but was stopped at the 1, ending a six-play, 19-yard drive.
NO GOOD: After reaching the 29, Matt Leach's 47-yard field goal with 3:38 left in the third went wide right, ending a six-play, 8-yard drive.
BLOCKED: After reaching the 30, Leach's 47-yard field goal with 13:37 left was blocked, ending a 15-play, 50-yard drive.