Kentucky-Florida Preview

Kentucky has done virtually everything right while rolling

through non-conference opposition recently, and this year has been

no exception. To open SEC play, though, the Wildcats are going to a

place where it has gone all wrong many, many times.

The unbeaten Wildcats head to Gainesville, where they will try

to end a 23-game losing streak to No. 9 Florida and post their

first win in The Swamp since 1979.

First-year coach Joker Phillips has watched his offense execute

nearly flawlessly as Kentucky (3-0) has averaged 44.3 points and

497.3 yards without committing a turnover in three games. Mike

Hartline threw for 250 yards and two touchdowns while Derrick Locke

added a career-high 166 rushing yards and two scores in a 47-10

rout of Akron last week.

Hartline has passed for 680 yards and five touchdowns while

completing 72.0 percent of his passes, and Locke has 372 yards and

five TDs for Kentucky, which has won 18 straight non-conference

games.

It’s been a different story for the Wildcats against Florida,

which they haven’t beaten since 1986. The losing streak to the

Gators is the second-longest active one in the FBS – trailing

Kentucky’s 25-game run of futility versus Tennessee – and 10th

longest all-time.

“It’s something that everyone wants to here, you want to end

these streaks,” defensive tackle Ricky Lumpkin said. “If you end a

streak here, you’ll go down forever in history.”

Forgetting their recent history at The Swamp might be a good

idea for the Wildcats. They have lost 15 in a row at Gainesville

and gave up four touchdowns in the first 11:45 of a 63-5 loss there

in 2008.

Last year’s meeting at Lexington was also a disaster for

Kentucky, as Florida (3-0, 1-0) again scored four first-quarter TDs

and rolled to a 41-7 victory.

“You’ve got to keep your head,” Lumpkin said. “Florida’s one of

those places, things can get away from you pretty quickly.”

Continuing to play turnover free will be a challenge against a

Gators defense that has been exceptional while the offense finds

its bearings. Florida has recorded 10 interceptions – three by

safety Ahmad Black – among its 12 takeaways and limited opponents

to 14.3 points per game and a 27.5 percent conversion rate on third

downs.

The Gators shut down Tauren Poole in a 31-17 win at Tennessee on

Saturday, limiting the tailback to 23 yards. They forced three

turnovers, including a key interception by Jeremy Brown that helped

sustain Florida’s momentum in the third quarter and led to a

touchdown.

“Defense played well,” coach Urban Meyer said. “I think we only

gave up, I believe, 29 yards rushing and other than two lost

coverages, I thought our defense played very well.”

As the defense has shined, the offense is still adjusting to the

loss of Tim Tebow to the NFL. There have been snap issues between

quarterback John Brantley and converted center Mike Pouncey, the

lack of a go-to player to get tough yards aside from tailback

Jeffrey Demps and an inconsistent receiving corps following the

dismissal of Chris Rainey.

Brantley threw a touchdown pass and Demps grinded out 73 yards

versus Tennessee, but it was Meyer’s decision to call a fake punt

that sparked the offense. Omarius Hines raced 36 yards to further

the drive, which Brantley capped with a 7-yard touchdown pass to

give the Gators the lead for good.

“Until we get a little better, we’re going to have to do things

like that and find a way to win a game,” said Meyer, whose next

win will be his 100th.

Brantley has thrown for 452 yards and five touchdowns without an

interception, while Demps has 310 rushing yards and is averaging

6.9 per carry.