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Vanderbilt Commodores vs. Florida Gators Preview and Prediction

Luke Del Rio

Luke Del Rio

Both Florida and Vanderbilt had tough SEC games last weekend, but for totally different reasons.

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The No. 21-ranked Gators (2-1) barely edged out the Kentucky Wildcats by the score of 28-27. The Wildcats had an opportunity to win the game as time expired but Austin MacGinnis’ 57-yard field goal fell short.

Vanderbilt (3-1) was undefeated and extremely confident heading into its game against Alabama, but dreams of an upset faded quickly. The Commodores were destroyed 59-0 at home as the Crimson Tide led 31-0 at halftime.

Florida holds a 38-10-2 all-time series advantage over Vanderbilt. In their meeting in Nashville last season, the Gators prevailed 13-6 behind two Eddy Pinerio field goals.

Vanderbilt at Florida

Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 30 at 12 p.m. ET

TV Channel: ESPN

Spread: Florida -9.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Luke Del Rio

After Feleipe Franks started his third straight game for the Gators, he was pulled in the second half, but for a quarterback many weren’t expecting. Del Rio, who started six games for the Gators in 2016 came in relief of Franks and helped Florida come back from a 13-point deficit.

It was Del Rio who threw the game-winning touchdown with 43 seconds left. During the offseason, Del Rio had shoulder surgery. Earlier this week head coach Jim McElwain named Del Rio the starter against Vanderbilt on Saturday. It will be interesting to see how well Del Rio and the offense does against a Commodores defense that, up until last week against Alabama, has held opponents in check.

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2. Ralph Webb

So far this season, the Commodores have been unable to get Webb (above, right), the program’s all-time leading rusher, going. Webb has just 64 carries for 169 yards and two touchdowns through four games.

“He’s run all over us the last two years, McElwain said in a press conference earlier this week. “He plays with a little extra juice.”

In Webb’s last two meetings against the Gators, he has eclipsed the 100-yard mark in each game. Last season, Webb finished with 110 yards on 24 carries against a Florida defense that ended up ranked 37th in FBS against the run.

3. Florida’s defense

Speaking of defense, this Gators unit hasn’t quite performed up to its usual standards, especially compared to the past few seasons.

Florida enters this game ranked 82nd in the country in total defense, giving up 405 yards per game. Kentucky put up 340 yards last week, hurting the Gators on both the ground (120) and through the air (220). Last year, Florida finished fifth in FBS in total defense (292.8 ypg) and held the Wildcats to just 149 total yards.

Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur ranks fourth in the SEC in passing efficiency and has eight touchdowns and just one interception. Between Shurmur and Webb the Gators’ defense could be in for another long afternoon unless this group shows some improvement.

Final Analysis

Vanderbilt is a much better team than the one that played Alabama last week. The Commodores have given the Gators all they can handle in recent seasons and there’s no reason to think will be any different, even in the Swamp.

College Football Top 25 Rankings: Florida

Both Florida and Vanderbilt rank at the bottom of the SEC in scoring, so points will come at a premium. The difference in Saturday’s game could be freshman Kadarius Toney, who has done a little bit of everything on offense in the early going. Look for the Gators to get him to ball often in what ends up being another close game between these SEC East rivals.

Prediction: Florida 20, Vanderbilt 17

— 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, the Miami Herald and the Palm Beach Post and is a reporter for Pro Player Insiders. Follow him on Twitter @antwanstaley.