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

huge challenge.”

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

Tennessee.

”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

that.”

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

this report.