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  1. Sports

Florida rolls to its 30th consecutive win over Kentucky

GAINESVILLE — Even after an explosion that featured Florida's best offensive performance in an SEC game in 15 years, Gators coach Jim McElwain was not overly impressed.

"We had a lot of guys do their job today," McElwain said after Saturday's 45-7 win over Kentucky. "They not only did their job, but they did it at a higher level."

And they did it by learning from the mistakes in last week's unimpressive, season-opening win over UMass, and by making improvements that could make the Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) viable contenders in an East Division that looks up for grabs.

Some of the signs of progress at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium were obvious. Quarterback Luke Del Rio overthrew wide-open receiver Antonio Callaway on the first play last week to squander a sure-fire touchdown. Faced with a similar situation late in the first quarter Saturday, he thought he made the same mistake again.

"I threw it, and I was like, 'Oh, I threw it too far again,' " Del Rio said.

Except he made one key adjustment. Instead of throwing it to the outside shoulder as he did last week, he threw it inside. Callaway ran under it for a 78-yard touchdown that was UF's longest since the 2015 Birmingham Bowl and set the tone for a 30th consecutive win over Kentucky (0-2, 0-1), in front of an announced crowd of 85,821.

An offensive line that looked leaky in Week 1 and allowed a nation-high 45 sacks in 2015 jelled. After Kentucky pressured Del Rio on two of his first three passes, UF inserted freshman Jawaan Taylor at right tackle. Del Rio said the Wildcats didn't even touch him after that, and UF finished a game without allowing sack for the first time since November 2014.

"It's easy to be comfortable when you're not getting touched," Del Rio said.

And when you're that comfortable, the results follow. Del Rio finished 19-of-32 passing and became the first UF quarterback with four touchdowns and 320 yards in an SEC game since Rex Grossman in 2001. Callaway had 129 of those yards to set a career high before leaving with a quad injury.

The ground game also bounced back. After UF's four backs rushed for only 96 yards in the opener, they ran for 236 Saturday. True freshman Lamical Perine topped last week's yardage by himself with 105 yards — a notable rebound after fumbling away his first career carry in Week 1.

"You'll notice he was carrying the ball a little higher this week," McElwain said, "so he learned something."

So, apparently, did the rest of the offense, which had a day that was historic by recent standards but expected by UF tradition.

UF amassed more yards of offense in the first half (324) than it did all of last week against lowly UMass (256). The Gators' 564 total yards were their most in conference play since 2001, and their 13 third-down conversions are the most since at least 1996. Before Saturday, UF hadn't even had a 300-yard passer since 2013.

The opponent makes UF's growth tough to gauge. Kentucky gave up 520 yards of offense in its opener and blew a 24-point lead to Southern Miss. Spanning the two games, the Wildcats allowed 79 consecutive points before Saturday's garbage-time touchdown.

And McElwain said there's still plenty of room for improvement, especially before SEC play resumes Sept. 24 at rival Tennessee. The Gators had only five rushes longer than 10 yards, and McElwain continues to search for more explosive plays.

But given the offense's recent struggles, Saturday was a clear step forward for a team trying to defend its division title.

"Coach Mac always preaches, 'Do your job,' " center Cam Dillard said. "You know what? We did our job."

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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