Updated at: 09/28/2013 9:35 PM
By GARY B. GRAVES
(AP) LEXINGTON, Ky. - Matt Jones rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown and Tyler Murphy threw for 156 yards and a score as No. 20 Florida beat Kentucky 24-7 on Saturday night, its 27th straight win over the Wildcats.
Murphy also rushed for a 5-yard TD in his first career start for the Gators (3-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference), who closed a difficult week on a high note after losing starting quarterback Jeff Driskel and defensive tackle Dominique Easley to season-ending injuries.
Jones, who had 28 carries, outgained Kentucky by himself while he and Murphy provided all of the Gators’ touchdowns in the first half to extend the longest active winning streak over a major opponent. Florida gave Gators wide receivers coach Joker Phillips a happy return after his firing last fall as Wildcats coach.
Joe Mansour’s 25-yard run on a fake field goal was the only TD for Kentucky (1-3, 0-1), which was outgained 402-173.
That trick play was Kentucky’s only highlight on a night that largely belonged to Murphy and the Gators.
Despite failing to score a second-half touchdown, Florida had no problems moving the ball on Kentucky thanks to Murphy, who didn’t miss a beat in completing his first 11 passes and rushing for 36 yards, variety that the Wildcats struggled to keep up with.
He threw a second-half interception, but it didn’t matter as Florida picked off Maxwell Smith in the end zone en route to another stifling performance in which the Gators’ SEC-leading defense held the Wildcats to just 48 yards rushing _ seven below their average _ and allowed just 1 of 8 third-down conversions.
While the streak provided the game’s story line on a warm, clear evening, Phillips’ return to Commonwealth Stadium served up another interesting subplot. Fired last November after going 13-24 in three seasons _ including three losses to the Gators _ there was a question of how he would be received by fans who remember his long relationship with Kentucky as a player and assistant coach before his disappointing tenure as head coach.
The reception turned out to be cordial as he shook hands with some of his former players and Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart after the game.
Murphy made sure Phillips left with the last laugh.
On the opening drive the redshirt junior completed all four passes for 33 yards and ran twice for 20 in leading Florida’s 93-yard, 14-play march ending with Jones’ 2-yard touchdown run.
Unfazed, Kentucky tied it thanks to Mansour, who caught Florida completely off guard on a 42-yard fake field goal attempt. By the time the Gators realized what was happening, the 6-foot-2, 189-pounder was off and running down the right sideline for a 25-yard TD after holder Jared Leet flipped him the ball over his head.
That bizarre play had nothing on Jones’ 67-yard run that led to Florida’s second touchdown, the end of which is destined to be replayed on TV and the Internet as an example of how not to help a teammate.
In the clear and dashing right across the field past two Kentucky pursuers, wideout Quinton Dunbar rushed up behind in an attempt to push Jones forward but ended up tackling his teammate at the 12. Murphy simply turned it into a 14-7 lead two plays later, hitting Trey Burton for a 9-yard touchdown that got the Gators in gear.
Florida drove 62 yards for another score ending with Murphy’s 3-yard run, capping a perfect half in which he passed for 120 yards and accounted for 140 total.
Murphy’s combined yardage was 16 more than Kentucky (124) had through 30 minutes. Jones, whose starting status was in question following fumbles in the past two games, added 94 yards on 10 carries in Florida’s 253-yard half.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)