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TOP-RANKED FLORIDA HUMILIATES UK AGAIN IN FIRST START FOR COUCH

Date story was published: Sunday, September 29, 1996

GAINESVILLE, Fla. - Never mind that the sun has shone during Kentucky's last two visits to the Sunshine State. That's just meteorological mumbo jumbo. Inside the four walls of the infamous "Swamp" it is nothing but wind and thunder and lightning. And it pours. And it pours. And it pours.

Call it Hurricane Steve, as in Spurrier. And in 1994 the wrath and speed of Spurrier's Florida Gators hung a humiliating 66-point trouncing on Bill Curry's Wildcats. Then yesterday, two full years later, the nation's top-ranked team nearly repeated the feat, missing a carbon copy by a single point.

Florida 65, Kentucky 0.

Stomped in "The Swamp" again.

"It's very clear what happened," said Curry , his team now 1-3. "We were dominated in every way. You can pick any aspect, and it's the same."

Let's see. Start with Spurrier's top pupil, quarterback Danny Wuerffel, who did nothing to hurt his Heisman Trophy credentials. The senior completed 21 of 32 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns in just one half of play.

Florida led 41-0 at the intermission - its halftime lead in '94 was but 31-7 on the way to that 73-7 mauling - thanks to lightning-fast touchdown drives of three, three, seven and four plays.

In the second half, wide receiver Jacquez Green, who dislocated a hip in January's Fiesta Bowl, returned back-to-back third-quarter punts for touchdowns, the first covering 66 yards, the second stretching 79.

And all the while, the growling Gators defense, directed by new hotshot coordinator Bob Stoops, did what Cincinnati and Indiana had done previously, holding the catatonic Cats offense without a touchdown. UK was limited to a Curry- era low of 67 total yards.

Considering the dual downpour of Florida offense and defense, it would have taken Noah to save these Cats.

"Some experts thought we'd be a little flat after last week," said Spurrier, whose Gators (4-0 overall and 2-0 in the league) had beaten Tennessee 35-29 last Saturday in the so-called "Game of the Year." "Obviously this was a team that we were better than, but still we had to go play it and prove it."

They proved it by pummeling the Cats for the tenth straight time, the seventh straight since Spurrier took the controls. In Kentucky's last two visits to Gainesville, the Cats have been swamped 138-7.

"I didn't think anybody could do this to us," Curry said, "but they did."

Plus, the Gators did it to Tim Couch, gobbling Kentucky's heralded quarterback as if he were no different than the rest. As expected, Curry gave the true freshman his first collegiate start - though it's hard to say he "Cut the Deuce Loose" considering the conservative nature of the Cats attack - but the debut was more dud than delight.

With UK stubbornly attempting, and failing, to establish a running attack - "We wanted to keep the Florida offense off the field as much as possible," Curry said - Couch completed just six of 18 passes for 13 yards.

"I don't know what it was," Couch said. "It just didn't seem like I had any rhythm. We're a better football team than we showed today."

He was intercepted on his first pass attempt. Gator Fred Weary stepped in front of Craig Yeast to make the steal at UK's 26-yard line, which led to a 39-yard Bart Edmiston field goal and a 10-0 Gators lead.

That was only the beginning. Its offense next-to-last in Division I-A in total yardage, UK went three plays-and-interception its first possession, then three plays-and-punt the next six. The visitors' initial first down came with just 3:19 left in the second quarter.

"When the defense is out there for 47 plays in the first half in this heat, that's tough," said strong safety Leman Boyd. "It's hard to compete with the offense going three-and-out."

Said center Jason Watts, "We really screwed our defense."

Not once all afternoon did the offense move the football across midfield. Only when free safety Tremayne Martin intercepted true freshman Doug Johnson's pass midway through the final period did Kentucky see the Gators' end of The Swamp.

"To try and assess Tim's performance, the way the rest of our team played would not be fair," Curry said. "It just seemed like we're out of synch."

As for Florida's performance?

"We're not making a big deal out of it," Spurrier said of the shutout. "Kentucky hasn't scored a whole bunch this year, so we've got to keep that in perspective."

In "The Swamp," Kentucky's perspective remains the same, flat on its back, looking into a howling wind.

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