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Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Florida Gators Preview and Prediction

Jim McElwain

Jim McElwain

After rolling over the Georgia Bulldogs 27-3 in “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party,” the Florida Gators will return home to Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for Homecoming to host the Vanderbilt Commodores.

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On Halloween, Vanderbilt was shutout by the Houston Cougars 34-0. The Commodores were held to only 185 yards of total offense in the game.

The 11th-ranked Gators can clinch a berth in the SEC Championship Game with a victory over the Commodores. Florida head coach Jim McElwain said he is just taking things one day at a time.

“And I've been around some great coaches obviously, something that Nick [Saban] does an outstanding job of,” said McElwain. “You can't get too high and you can't get too low. You've got to understand, you've got to take care of what you can take care of now, because whatever the event is, whatever that is, you're preparing for success. Our guys have kind of understood that. If there's a game, let's face it, if there's a game that probably will test that more than anything will be this one.”

Vanderbilt is 0-3 against Top 25 teams this season. The Commodores haven’t defeated a ranked opponent since their 31-27 win over No.19 Georgia in 2013.

Florida has a 36-10-2 all-time record against Vanderbilt. Last season, the Gators defeated the Commodores 34-10 in Nashville. 

Vanderbilt at Florida

Kickoff: 12 p.m. ET

Channel: ESPN

Spread: Florida -21

Three Things to Watch

1. Treon Harris

Against LSU last month, Florida quarterback Treon Harris had a solid game as he threw for 271 yards and two touchdowns in the 35-28 loss. Last week against Georgia, Harris had his struggles as he finished 8-of-19 for 155 yards and one touchdown.

While Vanderbilt isn’t expected to provide Florida with much resistance, this will be an excellent opportunity for the sophomore to get some work and gain more experience.

Earlier this week, McElwain compared Harris' completion percentage to Shaquille O’Neal.

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“It’s not good,” McElwain said. “Shaquille O’Neal might have liked it for his free throw percentage. "I think at the end of the day, we were on the right side of the scoreboard." 

2. Vanderbilt’s defense

For as badly as Vanderbilt has been outplayed in a number of its games this season, its defense has been one of the few bright spots for the team. They have faced three of the nation’s best quarterbacks in Brandon Doughty, Chad Kelly and Brent Stockstill and held them all under their season averages.

Expect Vanderbilt to blitz and load the box in order to slow down Kelvin Taylor and the rushing attack. That will then put more pressure on Harris and the Gators' passing attack.

The Commodores’ third down defense is ranked fifth in FBS as they give up first downs at a 25.2 percentage. Vanderbilt’s red zone defense is 17th nationally as they allow opponents to score at a rate of 75 percent. So Saturday’s game won’t be a piece of cake for the Gators.

3. Turnovers

Both Florida and Vanderbilt come into their game on opposite ends of the spectrum when it comes to turnover margin.

Florida ranks second in the FBS in turnover margin with a plus-13. Vanderbilt has a terrible minus-11 turnover ratio this season and that was its undoing against Houston last week. The Commodores committed four turnovers and it is hard to beat anyone with that amount of turnovers, nevertheless a Top 25 team.

“It’s hard to win a game when you basically score 21 points for the other team,” Vanderbilt center Spencer Pulley said earlier this week. “It wasn’t anybody’s one mistake. It was a whole offensive thing.”

Vanderbilt is a heavy underdog in this game on the road. If they have any chance of pulling off the upset, they will have to play mistake-free most of the afternoon.

Final Analysis

Vanderbilt comes into this game as one of the lowest scoring teams in the FBS as the Commodores are averaging 15.8 points per game. Florida is seventh in scoring defense as it allows any average of 15.5 points per game. So it will likely be a struggle for the Vanderbilt offense. 

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Expect McElwain to roll Harris out and have him throw the football early in the game. That will then open up the Gators' rushing attack.

Florida’s defense should be able to force a few turnovers. The Gators will likely start out slow, but expect them to roll to an easy victory and claim the SEC East crown in the second half.

Prediction: Florida 31, Vanderbilt 13

— Written by Antwan Staley, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and has extensive experience covering Florida sports teams. Staley has written for Bleacher Report, Pro Player Insiders and is a reporter for Sports Talk Florida. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.