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Date published: Sunday, September 26, 2004

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Maybe that 51-point explosion against Indiana last week was a mirage.

That new-and-improved, quick-strike, high-powered attack that rolled up 560 yards against the Hoosiers was nowhere to be found in The Swamp yesterday, as the Cats reverted to the ineffectiveness they displayed in a season-opening shutout loss to Louisville.Kentucky netted just 207 yards of offense and 10 first downs. Only a 51-yard Taylor Begley field goal kept the Cats from being shut out for the second time in three games as Florida coasted to a 20-3 win.

UK never entered the red zone (inside the opponents' 20-yard line), and nine of its 13 offensive possessions ended in five plays or fewer.

"Offensively, we never could get in sync," UK Coach Rich Brooks said. "We couldn't get things moving the way we would have liked to. Florida was pretty dominant up front with their run defense as well as their pass defense."

The biggest difference between yesterday's game and the IU contest might have simply been the name of the opponent. The running lanes that quarterback Shane Boyd found open on his way to 130 rushing yards last week were quickly closed up yesterday, and the quick passes that the UK receivers were able to turn into big plays were usually snuffed out immediately.

"Florida's speed at linebacker shut us down on the perimeter pretty easily," Brooks said. "Their linebacker speed is greater than Indiana, and their defensive line is a little bit of an upgrade. Their secondary was doing a good job of coming down and tackling us. Last week we broke some tackles; this week we didn't break near as many."

Boyd finished with 28 yards rushing on 14 carries and was 17-of-35 passing for 134 yards. The UK running backs carried 12 times for 48 yards, 17 of which came on one Rafael Little carry.

"Florida was able to close the gaps a lot quicker than Indiana was," Boyd said. "And a lot of it was execution on our part. We shot ourselves in the foot a lot."

What made UK's offensive ineffectiveness even more frustrating was the fact that Florida's offense squandered numerous scoring opportunities and seemed to be doing all it could to keep Kentucky in the game.

Florida quarterback Chris Leak was picked off three times, one of which came in the Wildcats' end zone, and another that came at the UK 10-yard line. And after kicker Matt Leach missed a 47-yard field goal late in the third quarter and had another 47-yard attempt blocked on Florida's next possession, Kentucky was still down by only 10 (13-3) with 8:37 remaining.

But UK went four plays and out, and Leak's 7-yard touchdown pass to Ciatrick Fason at the 4:08 mark finally slammed the door on the Cats and sent the 89,741 in attendance toward the exits to prepare for Hurricane Jeanne.

"The bottom line was the defense was on the field way too much and finally gave in at the end," Brooks said.

That's not to say the defense didn't have its shortcomings. Leak was held relatively in check, completing 25 of 43 passes for 261 yards and a score, along with the three interceptions. But Fason, a 6-foot, 215-pound junior, carried 31 times for 210 yards, the most by a Florida back since Emmitt Smith ripped off 316 yards against New Mexico in 1989.

"Our pass defense by and large was very good," Brooks said. "But our run defense is what continues to disturb me."

Fason had a 46-yard TD run in the second quarter where he broke through three arm tackles at the line of scrimmage and broke three more once he got into the secondary.

"We've got to tackle better," senior cornerback Earven Flowers said. "That's how you lose games. We missed our tackles, and they made theirs."

Brooks certainly got the start he was looking for, as Chad Anderson's interception of Leak at the Kentucky 10-yard line thwarted Florida's first drive. Then, the UK offense took over and marched 56 yards in 14 plays to set up Begley's kick that gave the Cats a 3-0 lead.

Florida came back and tied it on Leach's field goal to end the first quarter, but Kentucky appeared to be sitting pretty after Dicky Lyons Jr. brought back a punt to the Florida 28-yard line.

But redshirt freshman linebacker Joe Schuler was whistled for a block in the back, pushing UK back to its own 27.

Three plays later, a Boyd pass deflected high off the fingertips of Jeremiah Drobney and into the hands of Terrence Holmes, and Fason broke off his big run on the next play to give the Gators a 10-3 lead.

"We had our chances," Brooks said. "We kept hanging in there and hanging in there, and if we could have made a few plays, just one or two plays, it could have been the difference."

From the Florida perspective, it wasn't pretty, but coming off a heartbreaking and controversial loss to Tennessee last week, Coach Ron Zook will take it.

"I know we didn't play the game we needed to, but that happens," he said. "During the course of the year you're going to have games like that, and you still have to get in there and win those games."