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Ray Davis' rushing helps Kentucky dominate No. 22 Florida 33-14

Vanderbilt transfer gains career-high 280 yards, scores 4 TDs
Kentucky Wildcats running back Ray Davis celebrates TD in end zone during first half against Florida Gators, Sept. 30, 2023
Posted at 3:48 PM, Sep 30, 2023
and last updated 2023-09-30 21:52:09-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Ray Davis gave an encouraging glimpse of what was to come for Kentucky on his first three carries against Florida.

He totaled 33 yards and was on the way to one of the best games a Wildcats running back has ever had.

Davis rushed for a career-high 280 yards and scored four touchdowns, including three in the first half, as Kentucky overwhelmed the 22nd-ranked Gators 33-14 on Saturday.

The Wildcats (5-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) turned a matchup considered critical toward establishing an East Division challenger behind top-ranked Georgia into a rout before halftime thanks to Davis' dominant day.

The Vanderbilt transfer established a career rushing best with 206 yards before the break alone in addition to scoring runs of 3 and 75 yards, the latter virtually untouched after bursting through a hole on the left side.

Kentucky Wildcats running back Ray Davis runs through Florida Gators defenders, Sept. 30, 2023
Florida cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. pressures Kentucky running back Ray Davis during the second half Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Lexington, Ky.

Davis also charged for a 9-yard TD reception that made it 10-0, getting a little assist at the goal line from guard Eli Cox. He added 2-yard TD run early in the third quarter on the way to a 26-carry day for the third-highest single-game rushing total in program history and the first 200-yard effort since Chris Rodriguez Jr. had 207 against Missouri in September 2021.

A week after rushing for 78 yards and a TD on 17 attempts against his former team, Davis figured he needed redemption in a game that Kentucky needed.

"I really didn't do a whole lot today," Davis said. "You've got to give credit to the O-line and the receiver corps. These guys were blocking downfield. I was just staying with it."

Kentucky outrushed Florida 329-69, its first 300-yard performance since gaining 362 against Louisville two years ago.

More impressively, the Wildcats totaled 398 yards against the SEC's top overall and scoring defense, which entered the game yielding just 224 yards and 13.5 points per outing. The Wildcats also beat the Gators (3-2, 1-1) for the third consecutive time — their first such streak since winning four in a row from 1948-51 — and fourth in six meetings.

"We were far from perfect," coach Mark Stoops said, "but when we did put it together, we were humming on all sides. ... Our guys came out strong and that’s something I said we needed to go back to, establishing the line of scrimmage. That's who we are."

Graham Mertz threw a 4-yard TD pass to Hayden Hansen just before halftime and a 33-yard score to Ricky Pearsall in the third quarter. Mertz completed 25 of 30 passes for 244 yards but was sacked three times.

Florida Gators QB Graham Mertz pressured by Kentucky Wildcats linebacker J.J. Weaver, Sept. 30, 2023
Florida quarterback Graham Mertz is pressured by Kentucky linebacker J.J. Weaver during the second half Saturday, Sept. 30, 2023, in Lexington, Ky.

He was also intercepted by Trevin Wallace, who snatched defensive tackle Deone Walker's deflection of a pass intended for Arlis Boardingham and returned it 21 yards to the Florida 15 and set up Davis' first score.

"Not a lot of positives to talk about today," Florida coach Billy Napier said. "Hats off to coach Stoops and Kentucky. They were ready to play and they were the more physical team."

Florida has lost seven of eight away from Florida Field under Napier and five of six in true road games.