Florida looks for 25th straight win against ‘Cats
Florida coach Will Muschamp credits his team’s ”great effort,
passion and energy” in three wins to open the season.
He’s not quite ready to let go of that thought even as the
15th-ranked Gators (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) hit the road
to face Kentucky (2-1, 0-0) on Saturday night in a matchup they’ve
won 24 straight times.
”We have to play smarter in some situations on both sides of
the ball,” Muschamp said. ”There’s a lot of teaching points as
you watch the film. We need to do a much better job as we move
forward with our schedule, starting with Kentucky.”
Wildcats coach Joker Phillips isn’t exactly comforted by
Muschamp’s desire for improvement. Florida’s defense has been
dominant, and the offense nearly unstoppable in victories against
Florida Atlantic, UAB and Tennessee.
Kentucky has struggled offensively, and even its typically
reliable defense stumbled as the Wildcats lost last week for the
first time in five seasons to state rival Louisville.
”Florida is averaging 37 points a game, averaging 200 yards
plus on both sides as far as running and passing,” Phillips said.
”They are only allowing 8.7 (points), giving up 30 yards of
rushing – which is what we ran for last week, 35 yards. That’s a
Florida didn’t exactly give Phillips a warm welcome in 2010, his
first season as Wildcats coach. Gators quarterback John Brantley
threw for a career-high 248 yards, and Trey Burton scored a
school-record six touchdowns in a 48-14 victory in Gainesville.
It’s hard to imagine how they might improve on a defense that
ranks first in the FBS in rush defense (30.7 ypg), sixth in scoring
defense (8.7 ppg) and seventh in total defense (206.3 ypg). The
offense has been impressive too, outscoring opponents 113-26 after
scoring on 15 of 16 trips to the red zone.
Chris Rainey has been the heart of the Florida offense,
averaging 102 yards rushing, 71.3 yards receiving and four
touchdowns. He also scored on blocked punt return.
The Wildcats have fared better against the run this season after
ranking near the bottom of the country’s rush defenses last season
thanks to new co-defensive coordinator Rick Minter’s more
aggressive schemes. But they haven’t seen anything like the speed
of Rainey and fellow tailback Jeff Demps.
Brantley, who has completed 65.3 percent of his passes, said the
success has come from working around whatever opposing defenses are
showing and having fast starts – mostly off scripted drives.
Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis enters each game with two to
three scripted drives, and the Gators scored on their first three
drives against UAB and first four against Florida Atlantic and
”Coach Weis and the offense like to keep with what’s working.
So far, it’s working,” Brantley said. ”We’re just going to keep
trying to progress and get better. It’s always important to have a
fast start to any game, and we’ve just got to keep doing
The Wildcats enter the game with a strong pass defense and the
SEC’s top tackler in linebacker Danny Trevathan. They have limited
opponents to an average 13.3 points per game.
But it’s the offense that Kentucky knows needs work. Though
Wildcats quarterback Morgan Newton has steadily improved and wide
receiver La’Rod King has scored a touchdown in each game, the
running game has been inconsistent.
Newton completed 65.9 percent of his passes for 255 yards and
two touchdowns in the 24-17 loss to Louisville, but the Wildcats
gained 35 yards on the ground and were without starting running
back Raymond Sanders, who will miss a second straight game
recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery.
”We’re a family, we’ve got a great team. I know that, and I
think we all know that,” tight end Nick Melillo said. ”It’s just
about coming together, and that’s going to happen.”
The Gators are coming off their seventh-straight victory against
rival Tennessee, and the meat of their schedule lies ahead with
games against No. 3 Alabama, No. 2 LSU and Auburn looming over the
next three weeks.
”We’re all focused on Kentucky,” linebacker John Bostic said.
”They’re a good SEC team, got a good quarterback, a good running
back, a solid offensive line. We’re just worried about getting
ready for this week.”
AP Sports Writer Mark Long in Gainesville, Fla., contributed to