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 tonight 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.
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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.