GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Playing a true freshman on the road at Florida is tough, Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said.
Playing a senior? Not much easier.
The Kentucky offense, prolific through three games, halted abruptly in the Wildcats' 38-0 loss to No. 14 Florida when senior quarterback Morgan Newton threw three interceptions against the Gators. Phillips and his staff stuck with Newton through three quarters before replacing him with true freshman Jalen Whitlow. By then, the outcome was already decided.
Newton completed just 7 of 21 passes. All three of his interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown, came in the second quarter as Florida pulled away. He had 48 passing yards on the day, while Florida returned his three interceptions a total of 65 yards.
"I just tried to be there for my team in this situation," Newton said. "It didn't work out very well."
It was the 26th straight loss for Kentucky (1-4, 0-1 SEC) to Florida (4-0, 3-0 SEC), the longest active streak in the nation among teams that play each other every year. It was also the first time Kentucky was shut out since losing 49-0 at LSU in 2006.
Sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith, the SEC's leading passer, didn't throw in practice on Tuesday or Wednesday as he recovered from a bruised shoulder suffered against Western Kentucky last week. Newton and Whitlow split reps in his absence over those two days. Smith threw on Thursday and Phillips said after practice he was expected to play, but the trainers advised him Smith's injury could worsen
Smith traveled to Florida with the team and was willing to take the shot necessary to play, but Phillips decided on Thursday night it wasn't worth the risk.
"I was not ready to do that," Phillips said. "I treat him like he's my kid, and I was not ready to do that."
Newton hadn't taken significant snaps at quarterback since fall camp. After losing the starting competition to Smith, he was moved to an H-back role. Whitlow had begun to move into the backup quarterback role, but the coaches decided he wasn't ready to make his first start at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Whitlow is expected to move into the backup quarterback role going forward, Phillips said. Smith should return next week.
Florida only led 3-0 at the end of the first quarter as Newton slowly moved the offense down the field. Without starting tailback CoShik Williams, who did not make the trip while recovering from a hip strain, junior tailbacks Jonathan George and Raymond Sanders combined for 100 yards on 23 carries, but struggled after halftime.
"Once Florida figured out they didn't have to worry about the pass too much, it got a whole lot harder to move the ball," offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. "We became a whole lot easier to defend in the second half."
The Kentucky defense battled early, holding Florida to 81 yards in the first quarter and intercepting a pass in the end zone in the second quarter. But behind Newton's avalanche of interceptions, it eventually gave way.
While Kentucky had struggled in the first quarter against Florida in previous years, it was the second quarter that doomed them this year. Newton's three interceptions helped Florida score three touchdowns before halftime, and the Kentucky offense never found its rhythm.
"Offensively, we put (the defense) in some tough holes," Phillips said.
Florida ran for 200 yards on 45 carries. Quarterback Jeff Driskell completed 18 of 27 passes for 203 yards, one touchdown and one interception, moving efficiently when given opportunities. The Gators wore the Wildcat defense down before grinding out the clock in the second half.
Whitlow didn't fare much better than Newton when he finally entered the game. He finished 1-6 passing for 12 yards. The Kentucky offense finished with 219 total yards, its lowest total since finishing with 217 against Tennessee last year.
"We just couldn't throw and catch," Phillips said. "This week, we just didn't give ourselves a chance."
Sophomore safety Ashely Lowery suffered a head injury after a big hit in the first half and did not return. Sophomore left tackle re-aggravated a lingering ankle injury from the Western Kentucky game. Junior right tackle Kevin Mitchell suffered a rolled ankle. Junior tight end Tyler Robinson suffered a back injury.
Junior defensive tackle Mister Cobble was hospitalized on Friday afternoon after suffering an infection in his knee. He is considered day-to-day. Senior cornerback Cartier Rice didn't make the trip with a thigh bruise.