SEC East-leading Gators visit the winless Commodores on Saturday
This will be the first true away game for the SEC East-leading Gators since they suffered their only defeat of the season in a 41-38 thriller at Texas A&M on Oct. 10. Florida has been full steam ahead since that loss, knocking off its last three opponents by an average margin of 22 points. Last Saturday's 63-35 victory over Arkansas was particularly significant, marking the first time that Florida put up 60-plus points against an SEC opponent since 2008. Now 5-1 on the season, Dan Mullen and his Gators will look to keep the momentum rolling against Vanderbilt.
It's been a rough season for Derek Mason and the winless Commodores, which are off to their worst start since 1998. They now sit alone at the bottom of the SEC East standings at 0-6, riding a 10-game conference losing streak that dates back to last season. The good news is that they appear to be trending in the right direction after scoring a season-high 35 points last week against a solid Kentucky defense on the road. The bad news is that they still came up short in the 38-35 loss to the Wildcats. And it's not going to get any easier for Vanderbilt down the stretch, starting with Kyle Trask and an explosive Florida offense coming to town on Saturday.
Florida holds a significant 41-10-2 edge over Vanderbilt in the series all-time. The Gators have won each of the last six games in the series and 28 of the last 29 matchups. Florida won last year's contest in Gainesville 56-0 and came away with a more closely contested 37-27 victory in their last visit to Nashville in 2018.
No. 6 Florida at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 21 at 12 p.m. ET
Spread: Florida -31.5
When Florida Has the Ball
The sky seems to be the limit for a Florida passing game that is hitting on all cylinders. Much of that success can be attributed to senior quarterback Kyle Trask, who last week broke Tua Tagovailoa's SEC record for the most passing touchdowns through six games with 28. It also marked the second time this season that Trask has thrown for six touchdowns in a game. And the Heisman Trophy candidate yet to throw fewer than four touchdowns in a game all season. In addition to leading the FBS in touchdown passes, Trask also ranks in the top 10 nationally in completion rate (70.1 percent), passing yards (2,171), and passing efficiency (197.5).
It's even more impressive that Trask was able to torch a solid Arkansas pass defense last week without the aid of his top pass-catcher in All-SEC tight end Kyle Pitts (concussion), who will once again sit out this week against Vanderbilt. Backup tight end Keon Zipperer stepped up in Pitt's absence with 3 catches for 47 yards and a pair of scores in the win, as did wide receiver Xzavier Henderson with three receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown. Those guys should once again be a factor on Saturday, along with a pair of Trask's favorite targets in Trevon Grimes and Kadarius Toney, who already have 55 catches for 699 yards and 11 touchdowns between them in six games. Add in a Florida offensive line that has allowed the second-fewest sacks (6) in the SEC this season, and you have a recipe for one of the most dangerous passing attacks in the nation. That doesn't bode well for a Vanderbilt pass defense that gives up 257.9 passing yards per game (90th in the FBS) and has struggled mightily in matchups against top-flight passing games this season.
While running the football isn't exactly a strength for the Florida offense, there is potential for success in that regard on Saturday. The Commodores rank 13th in the SEC against the run, allowing a generous 185.2 rushing yards per game, and give up close to six yards per carry, which ranks dead last in the conference. That makes for a promising matchup for Florida running back Dameon Pierce (4.8 ypc), who should be in for one of his better outings of the season.
When Vanderbilt Has the Ball
While the Vanderbilt offense isn't exactly hitting on all cylinders, the Commodores have been improved greatly on that side of the football over the last few weeks. True freshman quarterback Ken Seals has taken a step forward in his progression after suffering through some serious growing pains early in the season. Over his last three contests, Seals has completed an impressive 70.3 percent of his passes for 880 yards and five touchdowns. However, interceptions continue to be a concern for the young signal-caller — with four in his last three games and eight for the season.
The Commodores may have found a solution for their red-zone woes in fellow true freshman quarterback Mike Wright, who accounted for two Vandy touchdowns in the red zone last week against a stingy Kentucky defense (one passing and one running). The Vanderbilt receiving corps also appears to be making positive strides — led by Cam Johnson (37 receptions, 355 yards, two touchdowns) and tight end Ben Bresnahan (21 receptions, 217 yards, three touchdowns). That leaves room for optimism on Saturday against a Florida pass defense that ranks 94th nationally, surrendering 260.5 yards per game through the air. The x-factor will be how well Vandy's offensive line can hold up against a potent Florida pass rush that has already accounted for an SEC-leading 19 sacks this season.
Vanderbilt has shown improvement in the run game as well. And no one has made a bigger impact for the Vanderbilt offense of late than sophomore running back Keyon Henry-Brooks. Henry-Brooks has accounted for 496 total yards and two touchdowns over his last three games alone, including back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances. Unfortunately, his availability for Saturday is in question after sustaining a rib injury last week against Kentucky. It will be a blow to the Vanderbilt offense if he is unable to play against the Gators. However, the run game should be in good hands with junior running back Ja'Veon Marlow (4.5 ypc), who makes his return on Saturday after serving a four-game suspension for violating team rules. The Vandy ground attack will be paired against a Florida run defense that ranks ninth in the SEC and 54th nationally, allowing 150.8 rushing yards per game.
Vanderbilt seems to be heading in a good direction offensively. And if that trend continues on Saturday, the Commodores should have some success on that side of the football against a Florida defense that is giving up 30.0 points and 411.3 yards per game. However, the Vanderbilt defense is no match for Kyle Trask and an explosive Florida passing attack that will have no problem lighting up the scoreboard early and often. The Gators win comfortably on the road to strengthen their position atop the SEC East standings at 6-1.
Prediction: Florida 55, Vanderbilt 21
Podcast: Week 12 Preview and Predictions
— Written by Rob McVey, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @Rob_UTVOLS.