The Vanderbilt Commodores gave the No. 4/6 Florida Gators everything they could handle on Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, TN, but it simply was not enough to pull off the upset as Florida (6-0, 5-0 SEC) always had an answer for Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3 SEC) and picked up a hard-fought 31-17 victory.
The Gators out-rushed the Commodores 327-126 in an effort led by Florida sophomore Jeff Driskel, who scored three rushing touchdowns and bested Tim Tebow by setting a school single-game record for a quarterback with 177 rushing yards.
Vanderbilt got on the board first, completing a six-play, 66-yard drive that resulted in quarterback Jordan Rodgers’s first touchdown pass since the second week of the season. The Commodores benefited from a 15-yard penalty at the beginning of the drive when kick-catch interference was called on Gators sophomore cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy for hitting the punt returner too soon after he caught the ball.
Purifoy then got beat by wide receiver Chris Boyd for a 37-yard reception, and Florida junior safety Matt Elam was leapt over in the end zone three plays later as WR Jordan Matthews hauled in the touchdown. It was the first touchdown UF had given up in nine quarters dating back to the Tennessee game in week three.
The Gators finally registered some points on their first possession of the second quarter. Florida took over at its own nine yard line and put together an 11-play, 91-yard drive to score its first points of the game. Senior running back Mike Gillislee tallied 27 yards on the possession, but it was sophomore QB Jeff Driskel who scampered 37 yards down the left sideline for the touchdown.
UF then decided to go for two and converted as junior RB Trey Burton took a keeper into the end zone on a spread-out formation to give the Gators an early 8-7 lead.
Read the rest of the Florida-Vanderbilt story…after the break!
Faced with another long field, Florida took over from its own 12 and wound up at Vanderbilt’s two-yard line after Driskel completed 4-of-6 passes and ran for 36 yards on the drive. UF also benefited from a 15-yard pass interference call in the end zone. The Gators then nearly lost the ball as redshirt senior tight end Omarius Hines fumbled at the one, though Florida recovered and got another opportunity.
A 13-men-on-the-field penalty pushed the Gators back a bit and Florida threw incomplete on the next two plays, settling for a 23-yard field goal by redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis to take an 11-7 lead at the half. UF’s drive lasted 3:09 and consisted of 12 plays going for a total of 83 yards.
The Commodores got the ball to begin the second half and drove 75 yards down to the Gators’ eight-yard line in 14 plays. Vanderbilt then got called for a false start before Rodgers was sacked by senior safety Josh Evans for a 14-yard loss, forcing VU to try a 44-yard field goal. That attempt was blocked by redshirt senior defensive lineman Earl Okine and recovered by Purifoy, keeping the Commodores off the board despite the fact that they had possession for the first 8:43 of the second half.
Florida appeared to go three-and-out on the ensuing possession but instead of punting on 4th-and-5 from UF’s 43-yard line, junior WR Solomon Patton took a fake 54 yards down to Vanderbilt’s three. After a 10-yard holding penalty, Driskel ran a keeper 13 yards into the end zone to give the Gators an 18-7 lead with 4:31 left in the third quarter.
After the teams traded punts, Florida forced Vanderbilt into a 3rd-and-8 at its own 20-yard line. Senior Mike linebacker Jon Bostic sacked Rodgers when he dropped back to throw on the play, and the ball was immediately recovered by redshirt sophomore LB Neiron Ball. The Gators were held to a 29-yard field goal and took a 21-7 lead with 13:30 left in the game.
The Commodores got a new burst of energy after the field goal, running right down the field to be faced with a 1st-and-10 from UF’s 22-yard line. Rodgers was intercepted by sophomore S De’Ante Saunders on that play, but a defensive holding negated the turnover and gave Vanderbilt another chance. The Commodores used that opportunity to complete an 11-play, 75-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown by RB Zac Stacy to reduce their deficit to 21-14 with just under nine minutes left.
Stacy’s touchdown accounted for the first points allowed by the Gators’ defense in the fourth quarter all season.
On the ensuing kickoff, Florida redshirt junior WR Andre Debose registered his best return of the season, bringing the ball 60 yards down the field before being knocked out at Vanderbilt’s 37-yard line. The Gators stalled inside the 10 and settled for their third field goal of the night, a 26-yard attempt, to go up 10 points with 5:22 to play.
The Commodores did not waste any time getting back into scoring position. On the first play from scrimmage after the kickoff, Rodgers completed a 53-yard pass to Matthews to bring Vanderbilt down near Florida’s red zone. Five plays later, Stacy dropped what would have been a touchdown pass and VU settled for a 22-yard field goal to get within a touchdown of UF with 2:35 remaining in the contest.
The Gators downed the kickoff at the 30 but did not wait long to regain their 10-point lead as Driskel took a zone read 70 yards down the field for his third touchdown of the game. The Commodores were unable to answer and failed on a 4th-and-Goal with less than a minute remaining.
Florida had a huge rushing advantage on Vanderbilt, but the Commodores outdid the Gators in the passing game by registering 237 yards to the visitors’ 77. UF’s 10 penalties for 80 yards were devastating, as was the team’s 2-for-11 mark on third-down conversion attempts. Vanderbilt was 7-for-17 on third down and also out-possessed Florida by 6:20, a rare occurrence this season.
The Gators have another tough test next week when they host South Carolina in Gainesville, FL on Saturday at a yet to be determined time.
Photo Credit: Wade Payne/Associated Press