GAINESVILLE — Coach Will Muschamp wants Florida fans to know that the Gators aren't anywhere near where they want to be by the time this season is over, but they certainly are very happy with where they are right now.
After a shaky start against Kentucky on Saturday, the No. 14 Gators put together a balanced offensive attack that culminated with 403 total yards and a defensive performance with three interceptions in a 38-0 victory in front of an announced 87,102 at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
It was Florida's 26th consecutive victory over the Wildcats (1-3, 0-1 SEC), the longest active streak in the nation in a current series against a major conference opponent. It was the Gators' first SEC shutout since 52-0 over Mississippi State in 2001.
Florida is 4-0 for the third consecutive season (and 3-0 SEC), but the players and coaches said this undefeated has a much different feel from last season in which the Gators went 3-6 down the stretch.
"We are a better team," Muschamp said. "We are a more physical team on both lines of scrimmage. I think we're deeper and more mature and I think we handle things a lot better. We are a year older and more experienced and I think all of those things factor in when you're dealing with young guys. I think we are a more talented team than we were a year ago in some critical spots, but we have to continue to press forward because we are not where we want to be."
Early on, the Florida offense sputtered, going three-and-out on its first two possessions. Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel seemed off his game throughout the first quarter, going 4-of-7 for 33 yards — 24 of those coming on one pass to senior receiver Frankie Hammond. But on Florida's third possession, Driskel's 38-yard run set up a 27-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis.
"That's definitely a play that we like, a little zone read," said Driskel who was 18-of-27 for 203 yards, one touchdown and one interception. "Hunter Joyer did a great job kicking out the backer which freed up the sideline. If I had more speed I probably could have scored."
Florida scored on two of its next three possessions and eventually took a 24-0 lead into halftime.
"Rick Minter (UK defensive coordinator) does a good job defensively and they had some new stuff and we had to adjust to it, which we did," Muschamp said.
Florida held Kentucky to 219 total yards — just 60 passing. The Gators held Kentucky to 21 yards in the third quarter and had three interceptions in the second quarter, with Jaylen Watkins returning one 26 yards for a touchdown. Kentucky was shut out for the first time since 2006.
"Turnovers are nice, but to get a goose egg on the scoreboard, I think that's better," said senior nose tackle Omar Hunter, who had eight tackles.
Kentucky used backup senior quarterback Morgan Newton in place of starter Maxwell Smith, who has a shoulder injury. Newton was 7-of-21 for 48 yards and three interceptions.
"I feel like our kids competed hard,'' Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said. "We moved the ball offensively, but our turnovers didn't give us a chance field position-wise. … We just couldn't throw or catch. That's not how we've been playing the last couple of weeks."
The Gators, who entered the game ranked No. 13 in the SEC in third-down conversions, were 12-of-17 on third downs and converted four during a 15-play, 72-yard scoring drive that took 9:03 in the third quarter.
Florida next faces No. 2 LSU on Oct. 6 in Gainesville, a game that will show whether this 4-0 is really different from the past few seasons.
"It's definitely a little bit different this year," Driskel said. "We've played three SEC teams already and that's huge going 3-0 in the SEC to start the year. We're not done yet and we're going to keep working hard and keep playing hard."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]