University of FloridaÕs Montrell Johnson Jr. (2) celebrates after a touchdown during the GatorÕs game against Vanderbilt at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, Oct. 7, 2023. (Sydney Johnson/WRUF)

Gators Dominate Commodores For Homecoming Win

The Gators took down Vanderbilt for a 38-14 homecoming win in front of a crowd of 89,432.

Coach Billy Napier commented on the opportunity the homecoming game presented for his team.

Gators Strike First

The Gators (4-2, 2-1 SEC) won the toss and deferred, but didn’t give the Commodores (2-5, 0-3) offense much time on the field. Two broken up passes cut Vanderbilt’s first drive short.

In their first offensive drive, Florida marched 93 yards down the field. Senior Ricky Pearsall capped off the drive with six to put the Gators on the board.

However, the joy didn’t last long. On the Gators’ next drive, UF tried a double pass with receiver Kaheil Jackson getting picked off by Vanderbilt’s CJ Taylor. The Commodores then tied the score at 7-all on an 85-yard touchdown pass play to senior wide receiver Will Sheppard.

Florida Pulls Ahead

Early in the second quarter, Florida’s T.J. Searcy forced a Vanderbilt fumble. Cornerback Jalen Kimber made his first career fumble recovery, and the Gators took over on downs on their own 39 yard line.

QB Graham Mertz led the Gators down the field and passed to tight end Arlis Boardingham to retake the lead. Florida led 14-7 early in the second quarter.

It then seemed quarterback Ken Seals’ 85-yard pass was not a fluke, as he threw a 52-yard pass to put the Commodores in the red zone. After the scare, the Gators defense did not allow a score and maintained their lead, much to the fans’ delight.

Florida ended the half with a 7-yard touchdown run from Montrell Johnson Jr., adding to their lead. A roughing the passer call on Vanderbilt’s Nate Clifton gave the Gators a new set of downs.

The Gators led 21-7 at halftime after racking up 264 total yards.

Second-Half Scoring

Florida fans held their breath as Mertz appeared to be injured. Thankfully, he was able to walk off field, and Max Brown took over at quarterback for the Gators early in the third quarter. Mertz noted that he felt fine and that he just got hit a little “weird.”

The worry didn’t last long, as Mertz was shortly back in at quarterback. He led the Gators in a 91-yard drive ending in a touchdown from Eugene Wilson III. This marked Wilson’s first career touchdown as a Gator. Florida led 28-7 with just over three minutes left in the third quarter.

With less than one minute left in the third, Vanderbilt cut Florida’s lead to 14. Seals sent it to Richie Hoskins to make it 28-14 heading into the fourth quarter.

Gators Dominate

Early in the fourth, the Gators settled for a field goal after two big penalties brought them back. Kicker Trey Smack knocked it through the uprights on a 30-yard field goal. Florida extended its lead 31-14 with just over 12 minutes left in the game.

It was definitely an offensive show, as Boardingham added another six. The Gators led by 24 with over seven minutes left in the game.

Napier said Boardingham showed what everyone else had been seeing in practice.

Shortly before the touchdown, Johnson Jr. reached 2,000 rushing yards in his career.

The Gators kept Vanderbilt in check to hold on for a huge SEC victory.

Mertz was 30/36 in pass completions, but he and Napier feel he held on to the ball too long in some plays.

Florida will travel to South Carolina next week, and Napier acknowledged that it will be another road test for his team.

About Scarlett Cooney

Scarlett Cooney is a third-year journalism student specializing in sports and media.

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