From The Sports Network
By Ralph Lauro, Associate College Football Editor
GAME NOTES: The ninth-ranked Florida Gators have won the last 23 meetings with the Kentucky Wildcats and they will try to continue that run in SEC play this weekend in Gainesville.
Florida's winning streak in the series began with a 27-14 victory in 1987 and continued with a 41-7 trouncing last season. Overall, the Gators hold a decisive 43-17 advantage in the rivalry with the Wildcats and that includes a 24-4 mark in Gainesville. As a matter of fact, Florida has won 15 straight home games versus the Wildcats, whose last win in Gainesville came in 1979.
Presently, the Gators enter the weekend a perfect 3-0 and that takes into account a 31-17 victory at Tennessee in last weekend's SEC opener.
"I was very proud of our team for coming on the road and winning in the SEC," stated head coach Urban Meyer. "I think that's never something you should take for granted. I'm very proud of our guys."
It marked Florida's sixth straight win over Tennessee, as the Gators improved 6-0 in SEC openers under coach Meyer. Winners of their last 15 regular-season SEC games, the Gators now return back home, where they have tallied 13 victories in a row.
The Wildcats, meanwhile, are also 3-0 on the young season, as Joker Phillips is the first Kentucky head coach to capture his first three contests on the job since Bear Bryant did so in 1946. Kentucky hasn't exactly been tested yet, but the team has taken care of business, including a 47-10 victory over Akron last weekend. The Wildcats, though, now turn their attention to an always tough SEC schedule and they are seeking their first league opening win since 2007.
Running and protecting the ball have been key components to Kentucky's early season success, as the Wildcats have yet to commit a turnover, while churning out 242.0 ypg on the ground. TB Derrick Locke heads the ground game with 372 yards and five scores, and he is coming off a career performance in which he ran for 166 yards and two TDs in last weekend's win against Akron.
"He's been outstanding," coach Phillips said about Locke, who has topped the 100-yard mark in three straight games.
QB Mike Hartline has also enjoyed a successful start to the season, converting 72.0 percent of his tosses for 680 yards and five TDs. He was especially effective last weekend, when he hit on 21-of-29 tosses for 250 yards and two scores in the win over Akron.
Kentucky has gone over 200 rushing and 200 passing yards in each game this season, so balance has played a big part in this group's success.
Defensively, the Wildcats have also been good, although they could use a little more turnovers, having forced just four. The unit, though, has limited opponents to just 257.7 total ypg and that includes only 109.7 ypg through the air.
Last weekend, Kentucky smothered the Zips, which managed just 172 yards of total offense. Akron completed just 6-of-24 pass attempts for 105 yards, while the Wildcats brought the pressure with a season-high five sacks. Taylor Wyndham had 1.5 of those sacks and Danny Trevathan added six stops to the equation. Trevathan currently tops the roster with 20 tackles, including six for a loss.
The Gators haven't been all that impressive on offense this season, averaging a modest 319.0 total ypg, but they have come up with the big plays when needed. QB John Brantley hasn't exactly flourished and has thrown for a mere 452 yards through three games. He has yet to be picked off though and has a string of 140 consecutive passes without an INT dating back to 2008. Last weekend, Brantley threw for 167 yards and a TD, but more importantly he guided Florida on a nine-play fourth-quarter TD drive after Tennessee had just pulled within seven points. It sealed the 31-17 victory for the Gators.
"It was a lot of fun, it's a great atmosphere and we prepared really hard this week and it definitely paid off today," stated Brantley on the road win.
TB Jeff Demps continued to prove he is the biggest playmaker for the Gators, as he had 177 all-purpose yards in the win over Tennessee. He rushed for 73 yards on 27 carries, while adding 34 receiving yards and another 70 on kickoff returns. Demps has 310 rushing yards to pace Florida and is averaging an electric 6.9 yards per carry.
The defensive side of the ball is where Florida has really stood out, limiting challengers to 276.7 total ypg, including just 92.3 ypg on the ground. The unit has also been opportunistic, forcing 12 turnovers, with 10 coming on INTs.
The Gators came up with three takeaways, including two INTs, in the win over Tennessee, which managed only 11 first downs. Florida stuffed the run, allowing just 29 yards on 23 carries, while bringing the pressure with six sacks.
"Defense played well," said Meyer. "I think we only gave up, I believe, 29 yards rushing and other than two lost coverages, I thought our defense played very well."
Brandon Hicks registered six tackles and 1.5 sacks to pace the defense in the win. For the season, Ahmad Black heads the Gators with 24 tackles as well as three INTs.