Florida and Vanderbilt have met every season since 1992, playing 26 consecutive seasons. Save for a 2013 Vanderbilt win in The Swamp, Florida has won every matchup in that span. That included a 22-game winning streak from 1989-2012, with a 71-13 beatdown by Florida the largest-ever margin of victory in the series. In fact, Vanderbilt’s last win in Nashville came all the way back in 1989, also its next-most recent win in the series.
Ever since a Week 2 loss to Kentucky, the Gators have rebounded very nicely. 38- and 26-point wins against Colorado State and Tennessee preceded one-possession inter-division wins over ranked Mississippi State and LSU teams. The Tigers entered Gainesville 5-0 and ranked No. 5, only to leave victims of a 27-19 defeat. Feleipe Franks was far from efficient, completing only 12 of his 27 passes for 161 yards, a touchdown and an interception. The run game came out in full force, however, led by Lamical Perine’s 85 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Jordan Scarlett chipped in 65 yards on 14 carries, and Franks added 42 on six rushes.
Losses at Notre Dame and Georgia certainly didn’t provide Vanderbilt with much in the way of momentum, but to the Commodores’ credit they’ve come back and won the games they were supposed to win. The win against FCS opponent Tennessee State was not pretty, but it brought them back above .500 for a little while until the 28-point loss in Athens. Vanderbilt’s only touchdown came from Josh Crawford, who only rushed five times for 18 yards. Kyle Shurmur was 14-for-28 through the air, totaling only 169 yards passing. The real damage was done in the middle 30 minutes, as Georgia only led 7-3 after a quarter. The Bulldogs stretched the lead to 21-6 at halftime before rattling off 17 more in the third to take a commanding 38-6 lead that the Commodores simply could not overcome.
Florida at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 13 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Florida -7
Three Things to Watch
1. Ball control
While maintaining possession is important in any game, it will be especially so on Saturday. The Gators lead the nation in fumbles recovered with 11 through six games — contributing to their SEC-leading 17 takeaways which is No. 2 in the FBS behind Kansas — so Shurmur and the skill players on offense for Vanderbilt will need to be extremely careful with the ball. The Commodores have already lost five fumbles this year, so look for the Gators to continue to be very aggressive in trying to force takeaways.
2. Can Shurmur find air space?
In addition to their ability to force turnovers, the Gators have amassed 3.3 sacks per game and have allowed a mere 148.5 yards passing per game this year, both marks topping the SEC and ranking No. 8 and No. 6, respectively, in the FBS. Shurmur averages 233.3 yards per game through the air, slightly above the national average, so it will be intriguing to see if he can master a Florida defense that has kept many opposing signal-callers in check.
3. Momentum capture
Florida’s defense gets a lot of love, but its offense has certainly helped the cause as well. The Gators are a top-25 team in red zone efficiency, scoring on 91.7 percent of their trips inside the opponent’s 20-yard-line. Vanderbilt’s red-zone defense is allowing scores on 79.2 percent of its opponent’s red-zone trips, which is slightly below the SEC average but in the top 50 nationally. If the Commodores can keep Florida kicking field goals rather than extra points, they have a decent chance of keeping momentum on their side and possibly pulling out a home win.
For Vanderbilt, this is the second of three games against ranked foes, so look for the Commodores to try to pick up some momentum before heading to Lexington next weekend to face Kentucky. Florida, meanwhile, enters after a thrilling upset win over LSU, and this game is sandwiched in between LSU and the annual showdown with Georgia in Jacksonville. This could be a trap game of sorts for Florida, but the Gators simply have too much talent and are playing with a ton of momentum.
Prediction: Florida 24, Vanderbilt 13
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.