By no means were the Florida Gators even close to their best against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday. But not every win during a win streak in football needs to be a marquee one.
On a day in which the Gators were sloppy with the football and tempers flared on both sides, it took a double-digit comeback for the Gators to win their fifth consecutive ball game (four straight in SEC play).
Dan Mullen’s team now improves to 6-1 on the season after a 37-27 win in Nashville, while Derek Mason and the Commodores drop to 3-4.
Gator Offense Continues to Produce Despite Turnovers
With the Gators facing the Georgia Bulldogs in two weeks, it would’ve been easy to overlook the Commodores today. It might have happened to LSU last weekend. With them squaring off against Georgia today, it’s possible that the Tigers might’ve had one eye on that game when they came to Gainesville. Early, it looked like the Gators would suffer from the same type of malaise.
After driving down the field with ease on their first possession, quarterback Feleipe Franks was intercepted by Joejuan Williams in the red zone. That opened the door for a very an explosive Commodore offense to get settled.
Down 14-3, Franks coughed the ball up again as he was stripped with the Gators approaching the red zone. On another day, those missed opportunities might’ve cost Florida the win.
It wasn’t until the Gators went down 21-3 that their offense awoke. Running back Lamical Perine was once again the go-to guy when the Gators needed it most on the road. The junior rushed for a career-high 121 yards on 23 carries and a touchdown. He also added 93 yards through the air.
A 77-yard drive in under two minutes set up kicker Evan McPherson for a 25-yard field goal before the break. That was crucial because it got the Gators within one possession. From there, Franks and the offense really picked it up.
Gators’ offense explodes in the second half
While Florida’s offense has been relying on mostly quick throws to move the ball this season, the offense chose the right game to uncork itself.
After a huge missed field goal by opposing kicker, Ryley Guay, Franks connected with receiver Van Jefferson for a 38-yard touchdown in the third quarter. That drive was kept alive by an 18-yard fake punt run by punter Tommy Townsend on fourth down.
Townsend discussed the trick play after the game.
The following possession running back Jordan Scarlett busted through the Commodore defense for a 48-yard touchdown run to give Florida its first lead of the game. Scarlett also finished with over 100 yards on the ground.
For as good as the Gators’ rushing attack has been, it was the first time any back rushed for 100 yards in a game this season — let alone two.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 13, 2018
From there, receiver Freddie Swain would go airborne into the end zone to give the Gators some comfort. On a day in which people might point to Franks for his inconsistency, the redshirt sophomore finished with a career-high in passing yards (284) and two scores.
Mullen spoke about some of the negative aspects of his team’s performance after the game.
Big plays Hold Back Gator Defense
Most of the early praise this season has gone to Todd Grantham’s defensive unit. While the Gator D came into this game allowing just under 17 points per game, it’s become clear over the past two weeks that the defense is still susceptible to the occasional breakdown.
Running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn gashed the Gators for a 75-yard touchdown reception in the first half. He had another carry go for 42 yards before that. Last week, it was the combination of two big runs from LSU running back Nick Brossette that sucked some life out of the Gators early in the second half.
If the Gators want to continue perfecting their winning formula, their defense has to be able to limit teams from flipping field position so quickly. When the likes of Jachai Polite, Jabari Zuniga, and CeCe Jefferson aren’t having their best games, which they certainly didn’t today, the linebackers and secondary must limit the damage for Grantham’s unit.
It got tougher for Florida when their leading tackler last week, Vosean Joseph, was ejected for targeting before the half. To their credit, the defensive backs did begin to swarm the Commodores’ receivers a bit better after the second half.
What it Means
The Gators may have now won five in a row, but the BYE week will still come as a welcome sight. Mullen and Grantham now get the chance to iron out the team’s defensive mistakes with an extra week of preparation.
Now at 6-1, Mullen has taken care of business so far in his first season as the Gators’ head coach. But in two weeks time, the next test will be on a whole other level of difficulty.
Still, after today, Mullen and his team can continue to celebrate their highly enjoyable start to the season.
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 13, 2018