Florida was cruising through the first part of its schedule, starting 3-0 and outscoring opponents 101-14. That all came to a screeching halt for Jim McElwain's team last weekend as the Gators fell to SEC East rival Tennessee 38-28. Despite holding a 21-3 lead at halftime, Florida gave up five unanswered touchdowns in the second half and could only muster one late to keep the score close. Now the Gators are clinging onto a spot in the Top 25.
Vanderbilt was left for dead after a 38-7 drubbing at the hands of Georgia Tech. However, this season is proving to be a roller coaster, and Derek Mason's Commodores rallied to pull out an uncharacteristic overtime victory against Western Kentucky. Shaking off the offensive woes for the second time this season, Ralph Webb and Kyle Shurmur teamed up to put together some late drives including a seven-play, 75-yarder in the final minute to set up a game-tying touchdown by the running back as time expired.
Since Florida and Vanderbilt became annual opponents in 1991 the Commodores have managed to win only one time – 2013. Last year Vanderbilt led all the way until the end of the game when a punt only went 12 yards and left the Gators in perfect position to kick a game-winning field goal. While Florida looks to rebound from a tough loss, the Commodores are hoping to string together wins and shock the world much like they did three years ago in a similar morning game in Nashville against No. 15 Georgia.
Florida at Vanderbilt
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 1 at 12 p.m. ET
TV Channel: SEC Network
Line: Florida -10.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Can a Vanderbilt receiver emerge?
Long gone are the days of Jordan Matthews in black and gold. Since then the Commodores have been searching for a replacement to at least assume some of the responsibility of Vanderbilt’s all-time greatest receiver. In the years since, however, the team has struggled to churn out even one productive receiver. Players such as C.J. Duncan and Trent Sherfield have flashed talent but faded just as quickly. This year, true freshman Kalija Lipscomb leads the team with 11 receptions for 146 yards and two TDs. Duncan comes up second in yards with 110. In order for this offense to hum and compete with the likes of Florida, which puts up 450 yards and 32.3 points per game, Kyle Shurmur will need to find a reliable option in the passing game.
2. Which Florida defense will come to play?
Through the first three games of the season Florida’s defense beat up on weak teams, giving up only 14 points. Until the second half last Saturday defensive coordinator Geoff Collins’ squad looked just as good. The 35-point explosion by Tennessee in the second half, however, raised some concerns about the Gators’ ability to shut down the opposing passing game. Joshua Dobbs completed 9-of-12 passes in the second half for 235 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. While Shurmur is no Joshua Dobbs, he has shown an ability to put up numbers against decent teams and Florida will need to make sure its performance last week does not become the standard.
Getting in the backfield is a good way to do that. Jordan Sherit was the only Gator to make an impact in that regard (sack, TFL) on Saturday. With the Commodores’ offensive line weakened by injuries, Florida should look to jumpstart its defensive line play.
3. The Quarterbacks
Florida starter Luke Del Rio was unable to suit up last weekend and Austin Appleby performed admirably in his absence, tossing for 296 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. A similar performance by him this Saturday would give the Gators an early lead that wouldn’t be quite so easy to give up to the Commodores.
On the other side, Shurmur had quite possibly his best game yet as a collegiate athlete. Against Western Kentucky, he threw for 279 yards, one touchdown and one interception and led the Commodores on two strong drives in the fourth quarter and overtime. It’s becoming time for him to improve from a game manager into a game-changer for Vanderbilt and this would be the perfect game for his coming-out party.
There’s no doubt about it, this Florida team is better than the Vanderbilt squad the Gators are traveling to Nashville to face this weekend. The Commodores’ offense has been inconsistent at best and the defense lacks the bite it had last season. However, it remains unclear whether last week’s collapse against Tennessee will refocus Florida or lead them on a downward spiral. Vanderbilt, on the other hand, comes into this game with very little pressure and will be playing with the hopes of pulling off a major upset. Look for Florida squad to get off to an early lead and make a stronger push in the second half to keep the pressure on.