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No. 9 Florida turning interceptions into points, helping bail out slumping offense

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.

"I think it's a little bit of everything," Locke said. "A lot of it has got to do with Hartline. We've been throwing a lot and if he's making bad decisions, they can be picks. But right now he's doing a good job, and when I'm running the ball or Cobb is running the ball, we've got to hold onto it."

Phillips also credited Hartline with the offense's ball security, saying he's done a solid job of getting rid of the ball and not forcing passes.

"You'd better be lucky, too," Phillips said, pointing out a few times the ball has bounced his team's way. "I've never been on a team that had not put the ball on the ground or turned it over in three games. I'd like to be on one that has done it in four games, too."

Kentucky, which has lost 23 in a row in the series, has been on the wrong end of several turnovers the last two years. Florida blocked a punt for a touchdown in 2009, blocked two punts in 2008 and returned an interception for a score.

"If we go down there and fumble and give their offense the ball and give them good field position, man," Locke said, recalling the woes. "Worse comes to worse, that's what can happen. If we continue to hold onto the ball and we continue to make good decisions and we just play Kentucky football, we have a chance."

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AP Sports Writer Will Graves in Lexington, Ky., contributed to this report.

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