Ball-hawking defense bailing out No. 9 Florida

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GAINESVILLE, FLA. (AP) - Florida’s defensive philosophy is simple: When the ball is in the air or on the ground, the Gators better get it.

The coaches preach it, the players practice it and the results show.

No. 9 Florida leads the nation with 12 takeaways, including a staggering 10 interceptions through three games. The Gators (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) have scored 55 points off those turnovers, taking advantage of short fields, seizing momentum and turning close games into lopsided affairs.

Although the defensive performances have been overshadowed by Florida’s offensive struggles, they haven’t been overlooked by players, coaches or opponents.

“Defense, we’re just taking care of business,” cornerback Jeremy Brown. “We know if we handle our half, we’ll be good.”

Kentucky, which visits Gainesville on Saturday, feels the same way. The Wildcats (3-0) The haven’t turned the ball over this season, a big reason they are undefeated. Coach Joker Phillips would love to keep the streak intact against Florida, whose defense has done more than its share.

The Gators have allowed less than 300 yards twice, including in last week’s 31-17 victory at Tennessee. Brown, who had been picked on early in the game and beaten for a touchdown, provided one of the key plays with an interception in the third quarter.

“Gave up a big play,” Brown said. “Gotta have amnesia and forget about it. It was a big relief to come back.”

The Gators have used turnovers to come back in every game.

Cornerback Janoris Jenkins returned an interception 67 yards for Florida’s first touchdown of the season against Miami (Ohio). Two series later, safety Ahmad Black returned another one 40 yards to set up a short TD run. Linebacker Jon Bostic sealed the victory with the fourth pick of the game.

Black got two more the following week against South Florida. His first set up Florida’s first touchdown, which tied the game at 7 late in the second quarter. Defensive end Justin Trattou’s 35-yard interception for a score gave the Gators a three-touchdown lead.

“It’s not the way we’ve won a lot of games around here,” coach Urban Meyer said. “We’ve outscored people, but that’s not efficient, championship-style football. Our defense has to do that.”

And get this: Florida’s success the first two weeks came without one of the team’s best defenders. Safety Will Hill was suspended for two games for an undisclosed violation of team rules. He returned against the Volunteers, but was somewhat rusty. He bit on two underneath routes and gave up two long TD passes.

The Gators expect Hill to play better Saturday against Kentucky. They might need him to.

Led by senior quarterback Mike Hartline, senior running back Derrick Locke and junior receiver Randall Cobb, Kentucky has been efficient and error-free to start the season. They can only hope for the same results in Gainesville.

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