No. 8 Florida 51, Kentucky 35
Sep. 26, 1998
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) _ Two Florida quarterbacks were barely enough to outscore Tim Couch and the Kentucky Wildcats.
Doug Johnson threw for five touchdowns and Jesse Palmer added two more as the Gators (3-1, 1-1 Southeastern Conference) used a three-touchdown burst to pull away from the Wildcats in a 51-35 victory Saturday.
Tim Couch broke Kentucky's record for career passing yards and was the master of the big play with touchdown passes of 74 and a school-record 97 yards to Craig Yeast. But two interceptions in the final quarter killed any chance of the Wildcats (3-1, 0-1) beating a top 10 team for the first time in 21 years.
Johnson and Palmer alternated throughout the game, and both were successful against a Kentucky secondary that hardly managed to put up a fight. Johnson was 13-of-23 for 270 yards, while Palmer was 9-of-14 for 182 yards.
Nafis Karim, who had three touchdown receptions in his previous 33 games for Florida, matched that total in a span of 2 minutes, 22 seconds in the second quarter that turned the game in the Gators' favor.
With the game tied at 14, Johnson threw a 37-yard scoring pass to Karim. The Gators stopped Kentucky at its 1 and, after a 40-yard punt, Palmer hit Karim for another touchdown on the next play.
The line-drive kickoff ricocheted off James Whalen and Florida's Joe Ferguson recovered at the 23. Three players later, Johnson hit Karim on a 9-yard fade pass into the corner of the end zone.
Couch was 40-of-61 for 406 yards and three touchdowns. He now has 5,737 yards passing, beating the previous record of 5,564 set by Bill Ransdell in 1986. That was also the last year the Wildcats beat Florida, and they arrived Saturday bent on proving they would be a factor in the SEC.
Instead of jogging onto the field to start the game, they walked. And early on, they looked poised and confident.
It took Kentucky _ make that Yeast _ 30 seconds to cover 197 yards for two touchdowns that stunned a sellout crowd at the Swamp that has grown used to the Gators having their way with the Wildcats.
After Florida opened the game with Palmer throwing a 29-yard TD pass to Travis Taylor, a drive that covered 75 yards in four plays, Yeast took the kickoff, broke to his left, slipped away from Reggie Davis and went untouched down the sideline.
Couch wasn't terribly effective early on. Only three of his first-half passes were longer than 7 yards, but one was the longest offensive scoring play in school history.
Starting from his 3, he stood poised in the end zone and hit Yeast in stride at about the 30. Safety Teako Brown made a weak attempt at the tackle, and Yeast was jogging the final 30 yards for the touchdown.
If that wasn't enough, coach Hal Mumme was up to his usual assortment of tricks. He followed that second touchdown with an onside kick that nearly worked, except that the ball hit a Kentucky player after it went only nine yards.
Florida scored two plays later. Johnson hit Bo Carroll in the flats for a 39-yard gain, and tight end Erron Kinney was alone in the end zone for a 5-yard TD catch.
Mumme also ordered up a fake punt from the Wildcats 40 on fourth-and-5, and it worked to perfection. That drive ended in a missed 39-yard field goal.
The Gators scored almost as quickly, and more often. Their first five touchdown drives lasted a combined 3:06.
But before the rain arrived, and before Florida could move in for the kill, Jeff Snedegar put pressure on Palmer and Matt Layow stepped in front of the hurried pass into the flats, returning in 6 yards for a touchdown. It was the third straight game Kentucky scored a defensive touchdown.
Florida looked again to put the game away on Johnson's 47-yard touchdown pass to Robert Gillespie on a swing pass. But the Gators got conservative and went nearly an entire quarter _ from 5:14 left in the third until 5:41 left in the game _ making only one first down.
With Florida leading 48-35, Brown intercepted Couch's pass that bounced off Kevin Coleman. And Jevon Kearse got another interception when Kentucky faced fourth-and-9 with under a minute to go.