LEXINGTON, KY. (AP) - Florida forced two turnovers and scored three touchdowns against Kentucky, all in the first quarter. That kind of fast start is just what the Gators like.
“We came out, established momentum and took the game over,” Florida offensive guard Omar Hunter said. “We wanted to come out early and take the momentum from them.”
The Gators have outscored their opponents a combined 54-3 in the opening quarter this season and were up 21-0 against Kentucky when the Wildcats just barely squeezing in a 24-yard field goal as time expired in the first quarter.
Florida (4-0, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) went on to beat Kentucky 48-10 on Saturday night and moved up three spots to No. 12 in the AP Top 25 on Sunday.
The fast starts have paid dividends. The Gators have outscored 161-36 altogether and haven’t trailed once during their 4-0 start to the season under new coach Will Muschamp.
Grabbing a big lead early in games has allowed them to rely on speedy running backs Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey to keep their opponents at bay.
Demps and Rainey combined for 262 yards against the Wildcats, and the Gators finished with 405 yards on the ground, their sixth-best single-game performance in school history and most since a 466-yard performance against New Mexico in 1989.
It’s good preparation as Florida faces the meat of its schedule. No. 3 Alabama visits Gainesville on Saturday, and the Gators will travel to No. 1 LSU and Auburn before the annual meeting with Georgia in Jacksonville to close out October.
“We’re 4-0 and very pleased,” coach Will Muschamp said. “We have a lot of things to work on, but we are pleased with where we are.”
Florida’s early game success is partly due to offensive coordinator Charlie Weis’ scripting of a few drives to start each game. The Gators drove 80 yards for a touchdown on the opening drive of their 33-23 win against Tennessee on Sept. 17.
But the Wildcats managed to trip them up a bit in the first two drives of their first road trip of the season. On the first drive of the game, Florida went three-and-out for just the fourth time all season, and the second drive didn’t prove to be much better.
A fumble by the Wildcats provided a burst of energy for Florida. Josh Clemons lost the ball on second-and-1 at the Kentucky 45, and John Brantley hit Gerald Christian on a 45-yard touchdown pass across the middle on the next play to give the Gators a 7-0 lead with 8:10 in the first quarter.
The Wildcats (2-2, 0-1) failed to pick up a single yard on their next possession, and Demps ran off tackle for 20 yards for the Gators’ next touchdown, capping a four-play drive that took just 1:23.
Kentucky picked up a first down on its next drive _ its first of the game _ but Matt Elam picked off a pass by Morgan Newton at the Kentucky 46 and returned it 17 yards to the Florida 28. Rainey ran most of the rest of the way, with Trey Burton polishing it off with a 1-yard TD run to put the Gators up 21-0 with 3:39 still left in the first quarter.
Florida now has outscored the Wildcats 94-3 in the first quarters of the past four meetings.
“Once we had a couple of turnovers, it deflated us a little bit,” Kentucky center Matt Smith said. “It’s hard to get going again once they got the momentum, especially with a team like that as good as they are and as fast as they are.”
Kentucky gave the ball away again in the second quarter, deep in its own territory. Jonathan Bostic hit Newton as his arm was behind his head, Newton dropped the ball and Florida’s Jaye Howard grabbed it, running 2 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-3 with 11:30 left in the half.
The Wildcats scored their lone TD by making the Gators pay for a mistake of their own. Brantley headed to the locker room a few minutes before halftime after getting drilled by Danny Trevathan, the SEC’s leading tackler. On his second play, backup quarterback Jeff Driskel fumbled the ball as Trevathan hit him, and Trevathan fell on the ball at the Florida 26.
Demps, who won a national title in the 60-meter dash at the 2010 indoor NCAA championships, showed the speed the Gators have become known for as he raced by defenders with an 84-yard touchdown run. It was Florida’s longest since Emmitt Smith’s 96-yard touchdown run against Mississippi State in 1988.
“He looked like he was about to get caught,” Muschamp said, “so he was about to get a lot of grief when he got to the sideline if he had got caught.”
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