89F Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, Gainesville, FL
A strong start is nothing new for Florida, but it's hoping to avoid the ensuing slumps that have plagued the program in each of the past two seasons.
The 14th-ranked Gators' improved play to close out games could help, and they will attempt to continue that trend Saturday while adding to their dominance of Kentucky.
Florida (3-0, 2-0 SEC) won its first four games in 2010 and 2011 before fading each time. The Gators dropped six of their final nine games last season and five of their last nine the previous year.
Florida was outscored 72-22 in the fourth quarter of last year's conference games but has taken steps to correct those woes. The Gators have outpaced foes 27-0 in the final period so far this season and 50-13 in the second half.
"That's huge for us," quarterback Jeff Driskel said. "Going into the offseason, the strength staff and the coaches really drilled it into our head that we got outscored big time in the fourth quarter last year. And we went into this year knowing that we would have to be more conditioned, you know, physically and mentally to be able to handle the fourth quarter."
Last Saturday, Florida turned a seven-point deficit in the third quarter at then-No. 23 Tennessee into a runaway 37-20 victory.
Driskel tossed two touchdown passes, including a 75-yarder to Frankie Hammond, to help his team pull away. Mike Gillislee added 115 rushing yards to give him an SEC-best 346, and Trey Burton had an 80-yard scoring run while helping the Gators total 555 yards, their most since 659 in a Sugar Bowl rout of Cincinnati on Jan. 1, 2010.
Florida's defense held the Vols to 37 yards over the final 20 minutes. The Gators have allowed a combined 175 yards in the fourth quarter this season and kept opponents from converting on 13 of 14 third downs.
"We've put a tremendous emphasis on winning the fourth quarter, winning the second half and wearing down our opponent," coach Will Muschamp said. "That's something we've been able to do in the first three ballgames. That's something our kids have bought into doing."
Muschamp's team will next try to add to the program's 25-game win streak over Kentucky (1-2, 0-0). Florida has prevailed by a combined 200-36 score over the past four meetings.
The Gators won 48-10 in Lexington last Sept. 24, gaining a season-high 520 yards and forcing four turnovers. Gillislee's 60-yard run closed out the scoring.
Kentucky enters this matchup after a 32-31 overtime loss to Western Kentucky, a team that completed its move to the FBS in 2009. The Wildcats trailed 24-10 midway through the third quarter and needed Maxwell Smith's 22-yard touchdown pass to DeMarcus Sweat with 24 seconds left to force the extra period.
Smith had 332 yards and two touchdowns, but his four interceptions matched the total from his previous nine collegiate games. The sophomore has an SEC-best 966 passing yards and his eight TDs are tied for first.
Senior receiver La'Rod King is the conference leader in receptions with 23, including a career-best 10 for a season-high 84 yards last Saturday.
"I still think we've got a really good football team," coach Joker Phillips said. "We've got a lot of young players. We'll continue to play them and see how much they get week to week."
The Gators, winners of eight straight conference home openers, are 25-4 all-time against the Wildcats in Gainesville and have won the past 16 meetings there.
Kentucky's most recent win in the series was a 10-3 victory in 1986, and its last victory at Florida was a 31-3 win in 1979.
This is the 23rd consecutive meeting in which the Gators have been ranked.