GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kentucky coach Mark Stoops passed Paul “Bear” Bryant as the winningest coach in school history in a 26-16 win over No. 12 Florida on Saturday night, in a performance befitting what he has built in Lexington.
Behind a tough defense that shut down Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson, the 20th-ranked Wildcats beat Florida for the second straight season, the first time that has happened since 1976-77. Kentucky has won three of the past five in this series, one that Florida once dominated.
But over the past five seasons under Stoops, Kentucky has been the more stable program. He has 61 wins in 10 years as Kentucky head coach.
“I’m glad it’s here,” Stoops said of the record. “We needed this win, and I’m just appreciative to get this opportunity. It’s been a group effort. We can’t do this and win that many games and stay in this conference that long without a lot of people doing a lot of good things and committed to what we’re trying to achieve.”
To win on Saturday, Kentucky had to rally from a 16-13 halftime deficit. The Wildcats completely dominated the second half, keeping Florida off the scoreboard and Richardson from making the type of game-changing plays he made in an upset win over Utah a week ago.
Richardson went 14-of-35 for 143 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions and was limited to six carries for 4 yards. Last week, Richardson scored three total touchdowns in a 29-26 win over the Utes.
According to ESPN Stats & Information research, Richardson was 9-of-22 for 44 yards with two interceptions on passes thrown 10 or fewer yards downfield. The 40.9 percent completion rate on such passes was the worst by a Florida quarterback since 2015, when Treon Harris finished at 40 percent against Georgia.
“Anthony can do things better,” Florida coach Billy Napier said. “That starts with me. I think part of coaching is putting your players in position where they can have success. We made mistakes tonight. Anthony made mistakes. I made mistakes. One thing I know about Anthony, he’s a fighter. He’s going to show back up, and he’s going to work hard to improve. He has that level of investment and commitment to the players and the people in the organization.”
But the Kentucky defense did more than just stop Richardson on the ground. Keidron Smith returned an interception 65 yards for a touchdown to help the Wildcats take the lead for good.
“We were prepared today to go out there and beat the Florida Gators in the Swamp. It had nothing to do with Anthony Richardson,” Smith said.
One of the big motivating factors, beyond beating Florida, was in response to comments during the week from national media that called Kentucky soft. Before he was even asked about those comments, Stoops said, “You got to be a tough son of a B to come into this environment and win. We all understand that, and we know this team is built that way. We’ve shown it through the years. That’s who we are. We’re going to be a tough, hard-nosed football team that wins tough games no matter what they look like. We may win, we may lose, but by God, we’re going to be tough, and we showed that tonight.”
Kentucky quarterback Will Levis went 13-of-24 for one touchdown and an interception, and played a better second half as his offensive line played better in front of him. It helped get the running game going — Kavosiey Smoke finished with 80 yards. Because the defense shut Florida down as well as it did, relying on a strong ground game was all the Wildcats really needed to do in the second half. For his part, Levis said, “We wanted to get coach Stoops his all-time victory win, that was a big motivating factor for us as well.”
Even though Kentucky went into the season ranked, and the Gators were the higher-ranked team on Saturday night thanks to their win over Utah — jumping all the way up from no ranking to No. 12 — Stoops could not help but make one final quip after the win:
“This place was rocking and just coming off a huge win so heck, we must jump into the top 10 I guess now,” Stoops said.