Straight out of the Theater of the Bizarre, it was an all-to-typical Florida-Vanderbilt game. A way-too-early start (11:00 am local time), a bad Vandy team, and Florida coming off of 3 straight big SEC games……all leading to a somnambulant first 25 minutes of play until the Gators awoke, with the help of some really childish actions by the Vandy coaching staff that fired up the entire team……and coaching staff.
As much as Dan Mullen preached all week about coming out focused and playing hard, the team only got it half right. Stupid penalties, undisciplined play by the defense, and two terrible turnovers by Franks allowed the Commodores to race out to a 21-3 lead. From there on out the Gators dominated and won, but it wasn’t comfortable until the last score to ice the game.
The offense came out sharply, following up a 3-and-out by the defense with an efficient drive all the way to the Vandy 5-yard line, whereupon Mullen made a huge mistake in not simply running the ball on 2nd and 1 and calling for a slant pass that was tipped and intercepted. Maybe that stunned the defense enough for them to subsequently allow Vandy their longest scoring drive in 15 years. The offense responded with another good drive, but some inaccurate passes led to a punt. Then, the defense simply played undisciplined football, allowing an easy screen pass to go for a 75-yard TD. Not to be outdone, Franks led the offense back down the field, only to not protect the football on a designed run and fumbling, giving Vandy possession in the Gator 40-yard line. The defense continued their lackadaisical play, letting the ‘Dores march to a 3rd TD. Then it became all too real for Florida – they were in serious trouble, and it was either throw away all the good that was accomplished the previous 3 weeks, or toughen up and go to work. In a testament to the staff and the buy-in of this year’s players, the Gators did just that. The offense came back with an important TD drive, the defense got a quick 3-and-out, and then the real run began. On the punt return James Houston was ejected for a peelback block on a defenseless player (questionable – but OK), but then the Vandy coaching staff, while out on the field to check on the injured player, got into a shouting match with the Gator staff, which caused both benches to clear and for both teams to get an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty. This activated an obscure rule that if any player on either team already had a similar penalty earlier in the game, this would count as their second offense and cause an automatic ejection – goodbye Vosean Joseph (who really did it to himself with an egregious roughing penalty that helped Vandy score their second TD). After losing good field position due to the penalties, Franks hit Perine with a screen pass that he almost took to the house. This gave Florida a FG at the end of the half that made it a one score game, and provided all the emotional momentum the team needed to roll in the second half.
As soon as the teams returned to the field for the 3rd quarter, it was obvious that the Gators were ready to play. The offense continued to run the ball effectively with Perine and Scarlett, the quick WR screens were getting chunks of yards, and Franks settled down and didn’t turn the ball over, allowing the skill players to do work. After cutting the lead to 21-20 and forcing Vandy to punt, the offense landed the big body blow with Scarlett’s TD run to take the lead, which the Gators would not relinquish. The only real scare was when Pierce fumbled in Gator territory, but the defense held the Commodores to a FG to keep the lead. The Gators then drove for another TD to effectively close out the game. The offense wound up with close to 600 yards and two 100-yard rushers. The downfield passing game is still not clicking, as the only pass TD more than 5 yards beyond the LOS was the slant to Jefferson that he housed. Franks has to improve his accuracy on throws more than 10 yards downfield, and actually allow his receivers the chance to make some 50/50 catches. The defense tightened up the run gaps, but had chances for interceptions that they didn’t capitalize on that enabled Vandy to extend drives and get 2 FGs in the second half to keep the game close.
In retrospect this game could be a valuable teaching moment for Mullen and the staff, but also a confidence boost for the players. They now see that they can’t slip into their early-season bad habits, which actually cost them the Kentucky game. But they also see that the staff is actually coaching them up to be a good team, and that they can do some great things IF they are focused and disciplined. The bye week comes at a good time, to allow the team to rest up both physically and emotionally for a critical 3-week stretch that will determine how good or average the season eventually becomes.
I’ll be back next week with my preview of the Georgia game. Go Gators!
Florida 100 Bye Week 0