Lexington, KY – Tyler Murphy helped soothe the sorrows of Florida fans still reeling from starting quarterback Jeff Driskel's season- ending injury last week with an efficient first start on Saturday.
Murphy, pressed into action after Driskel sustained a broken tibia in last week's win over Tennessee, completed 15-of-18 passes for 156 yards and a touchdown while adding another score on the ground in the 20th-ranked Gators' 24-7 victory over Kentucky at Commonwealth Stadium.
With the inexperienced Murphy under center, Matt Jones shouldered the load, rushing for a career-high 176 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries for the Gators (3-1, 2-0 SEC), who have won 27 straight games against the Wildcats, marking the longest active win streak over a major opponent in an annual series.
Maxwell Smith struggled under center for the Wildcats (1-3, 0-1), connecting on just 12-of-20 passes for 90 yards with an interception.
"It's just going to take more practice," Smith said of his struggles. "We have a lot of young guys. That is what it's really all about. We need more repetition. We are going to get better every week."
Kicker Joe Mansour scored Kentucky's lone touchdown on a fake field goal in the first quarter.
Murphy completed his first 13 passes, including all 11 of his attempts in the first half to help the Gators build a 21-7 lead at the break.
Murphy's first series as a starter ended successfully, with the junior signal- caller converting a pair of third downs on a mammoth 13-play, 93-yard trek that Jones capped with a 2-yard TD run to make it 7-0 just past the midpoint of the first quarter.
"I had a few nerves just like every game," Murphy said of his first start. "I was able to hand off the ball to Matt Jones and throw a swing route to get the offense going.I felt really calm as I had the support of my teammates. They made my job real easy."
Kentucky moved into Florida territory on its ensuing drive, but Ryan Timmons was stopped for a 3-yard gain on 3rd-and-12 from the Florida 28.
The Wildcats lined up for a field goal, but holder Jared Leet flipped the ball over his head to Mansour, who showed off his speed en route to a 25-yard TD run to bring Kentucky even with under two minutes left in the first.
Austin Hardin missed a 53-yard field goal try on Florida's next touch, but after a quick three-and-out from Kentucky, Jones opened the Gators' ensuing possession with a 67-yard scamper down to the UK 12.
Two plays later, Murphy hooked up with Trey Burton on a 9-yard touchdown to give the Gators a 14-7 lead with under 10 minutes left in the half.
Florida forced another quick three-and-out before Murphy completed all three passes on a 9-play, 62-yard scoring drive that the Florida quarterback capped with a 5-yard TD run off the left edge to extend the Gators' lead to 21-7 with 2:53 left before halftime.
After forcing a three-and-out from Kentucky to open the second half, Murphy methodically moved the Gators deep into Wildcat territory, but on 3rd-and-4 from the UK 23, Murphy's first incompletion ended up in the arms of Kentucky's Josh Forrest, who returned the pick 39 yards to the Florida 37.
Kentucky couldn't capitalize on the turnover, though, as Smith heaved a pass into the right corner of the end zone that was picked off by Vernon Hargreaves III to give the ball back to the Gators.
Florida then moved 64 yards in 15 plays and chewed up over 7 1/2 minutes off the clock before Hardin hit a 33-yard field goal early in the fourth to extend Florida's lead to 24-7.
Smith guided the Wildcats inside the Florida 20 on their ensuing touch, but a pair of incompletions around a sack forced Kentucky to turn the ball over on downs.
Jones then carried the ball five straight times to trim the remaining 4:14 off the game clock and secure the victory for the Gators.
The Gators hold a convincing 47-17 edge over the Wildcats in the all-time series ... Jones rushed for over 100 yards for the first time in his collegiate career ... Florida has recorded an interception in seven straight games and has forced at least one turnover in 15 consecutive contests ... Florida outgained Kentucky, 402-173 ... UK finished 1-for-8 in third-down efficiency.