The Big Payback, indeed. Not quite as big as I would have liked, but Florida beat down South Carolina 38-6 to partially atone for the embarrassment of 2021, and made the Lamecocks look bad in the process.
The Gator defense continued it’s recent improved play by not allowing an offensive touchdown – only a TD on a fake punt due to a blown special teams play. The front seven did what was needed to control the game – slow down Carolina’s running game and force Spencer Rattler to beat them by throwing the ball……which he can’t do. Princely Umanmielen continues to show out at DE, setting the edge against the run and pressuring the QB. LB Ventrell Miller had another solid day making tackles all over the field, and the secondary was solid in coverage. The only negative was allowing some 3rd-and-long conversions. Shockingly, Trey Dean had perhaps his best game of the season, with solid run support and an interception.
Florida’s offense did what they should have – pounding the Lamecocks with the running game – and rolled up 374 yards on the ground. Each RB had a good afternoon – Montrell Johnson with 162 yards and a TD, and Trevor Etienne with 100 yards, including an electrifying 84 yard TD. Anthony Richardson again ran the ball as often as he should have been doing all season. 10-12 designated runs are necessary to keep the defense off-balance and allow him to make some big plays with his legs. He had a nice touch pass to Ricky Pearsall for a TD, but again was scattershot with his accuracy, especially on the move. That has to get cleaned up before the last 2 regular season games. WR Caleb Douglas again had a few nice catches and continues to improve. I still want to see a few more throws to the RBs and TEs to help AR out, but perhaps Billy Napier is saving those for the game 2 weeks from now.
Next up for Florida is a trip to Nashville to face Vanderbilt. The Commodores are coming off of their first SEC win since 2019 (26 games), winning at Kentucky. It’s been tough sledding for head coach Clark Lea to institute the latest program rebuild there, but he has one nice piece to start with in QB MIke Wright. Wright isn’t a very accurate passer, but is their second-leading rusher on the season and has injected some life into their offense the past month. The ‘Dores will lean on their running game, led by RB Re’Mahn Davis, who is also a capable receiver. Once again, the Gator front seven has to focus on winning first and second down and forcing Vandy into throwing the ball. WR Will Sheppard is a good player, and the secondary needs to focus on slowing him down. Do these two things, and it should be a good afternoon in the Music City.
Florida doesn’t need to change fundamentally on offense this week – continue to impose their will with a strong running game, with AR taking yards when they present themselves. Vandy’s defense is ranked 121st (out of 131) in the country, so this isn’t the time to get fancy – pound the rock and then hit them with some key play-action passes. I’m not sure if either of WR Justin Shorter or Ja’Quavion Fraziars are going to return from injury to play this week. It would be nice if they are ready, but perhaps the staff is hoping to hold them out for the last game at Florida $t.
This will be another one of those noon (11 am local time) snoozer starts, but the Gators are in no position to take any game lightly this season. Here’s hoping the coaching staff has them ready to roll from the start. This isn’t the time to fall behind and have to recover. I don’t trust AR enough yet to not make some mistakes each game, including some inaccurate throws, even with his good performance at Texas A&M a few weeks ago. He still lacks consistency, although he has played better on the road than at home this season. It’s gonna be a chilly day for football, with the game temps in the upper 30s to low 40s, but at least it looks like it will be a dry day. Get ahead early and run the ball well, and it will feel much colder for the Commodores and their fans. As usual, the visiting team should have almost half of the seats filled with their fans, and Gator Nation will show up at Vanderbilt this week. Finally, I’m not buying into a lot of the fools gold that seems to be going around after the last 2 games. Neither opponent was that good, so folks need to pump the brakes on thinking the Gators are suddenly a very good team. They aren’t……yet.
Prediction: Florida 38 Vanderbilt 21