GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Luke Del Rio delivered Florida’s most prolific passing performance in a Southeastern Conference game in a dozen years — even topping Tim Tebow’s best with the Gators.
Del Rio threw for 320 yards and four touchdowns, including a 78-yarder to Antonio Callaway, and Florida beat Kentucky 45-7 Saturday to extend its winning streak in the series to 30.
“I’m not ready to put him in the Gator Hall of Fame or the National Football League Hall of Fame, but I think he’s really learning how to play the position and knows what to expect and is starting to feel really comfortable with his pieces around him,” coach Jim McElwain said.
Del Rio joined a long list of Florida quarterbacks to have good games against Kentucky. But his 320 yards passing were Florida’s most against an SEC opponent since Chris Leak threw for 322 yards against Arkansas in 2004.
“I was very comfortable today,” said Del Rio, who wasn’t sacked and rarely hurried. “The offensive line is a big reason for that. It’s easy to be comfortable when you’re not being touched.”
The Gators (2-0, 1-0 SEC) rebounded from a pedestrian victory against Massachusetts in last week’s season opener, scoring five times in their first seven possessions and having their way with the Wildcats (0-2, 0-1).
It’s now a three-decade-long skid for Kentucky, the longest current one in major college football between two teams that play annually.
Although the Cats had chances to win the previous two meetings, coach Mark Stoops’ team looked overmatched on a sweltering, late-summer day in The Swamp. Kentucky’s last win in Gainesville came in 1979.
“There’s not a lot to say other than we got our butts kicked,” Stoops said. “We got handled. Offensively, you can’t do that against a quality team. We’re on the field too much defensively, can’t handle third downs. We didn’t play very good. We didn’t play very smart. We’ve got a lot of work to do. It’s back to work.
“Nowhere to run, nowhere to hide.”
Del Rio had touchdown passes to Callaway, Brandon Powell, Freddie Swain and Lamical Perine. The deep ball to Callaway was a replay of Florida’s opening play against UMass. Thanks to a little adrenaline rush in his first career start, Del Rio overthrew Callaway by several yards. His second shot was right on target.
Callaway beat Derrick Baity, ran under the high-arced pass and scored for the second time in as many weeks.
Mark Thompson and Jordan Scarlett also scored for the Gators, who reached 30 points for the first time since beating Mississippi 38-10 on Oct. 3, 2015. The 10-game streak was the program’s longest since before Steve Spurrier arrived in 1990. The Gators hadn’t gone 11 straight games without scoring at least 30 since 1979.
“We had a lot of guys do their job today, and they not only did their job, but they did it a higher level, a heightened sense of urgency,” McElwain said. “I thought we came out aggressively on both sides of the ball and we’re not going to take no for an answer. And that’s the edge the Gators have to play with as we move forward.”
KENTUCKY: After allowing 34 unanswered points in a 44-35 loss to Southern Miss last week, the Wildcats were outscored 79-0 in six quarters before finding the end zone late against Florida’s backups. It might not bode well for Stoops, who fell to 12-26 in his fourth season in Lexington.
FLORIDA: The Gators finished with five sacks, three interceptions and a forced fumble — another impressive outing for one of the league’s top defenses. The offense was the bigger surprise, and it may help Florida get back in The Associated Press college football poll. The Gators opened the season at No. 25, but dropped out after the lackluster opener.
KENTUCKY: Returns home to play New Mexico State in their first meeting. The Wildcats should have a chance to get their first win. Then again, they’re going to have to play better than they did in the last six quarters.
FLORIDA: Hosts North Texas, which has lost 11 of its last 12 games heading into Saturday night’s contest against Bethune-Cookman of the Football Championship Subdivision. It will be Florida’s last tune-up game (all at home) before playing a pivotal one at SEC rival Tennessee.
QUOTABLE: “That’s impressive. Thirty years, that’s longer than I’ve been alive. We’re happy to keep that alive,” cornerback Quincy Wilson, who had one of Florida’s three picks.
AP college football website: www.collegefootball.ap.org