The Florida Gators (5-3, 4-3 SEC) won consecutive games against Southeastern Conference opponents for the first time in more than a year, working their way to a 34-10 defeat of the Vanderbilt Commodores (3-7, 0-6 SEC) on Saturday night at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee.
Though Florida’s rushing attack was nowhere near as proficient as it was when it compiled 418 yards on the ground against Georgia one week ago, the Gators did their damage on the ground, racking up 214 yards and four touchdowns on 50 total rushes. Three of those scores came on the legs of UF quarterbacks with freshman Treon Harris rumbling in for two touchdowns and redshirt junior Jeff Driskel adding a one-yard score of his own.
Harris finished 13-of-21 for 215 yards, adding 49 net rushing yards on 10 attempts. Driskel did not complete his only pass try, throwing the ball into the ground, but was effective in a rarely-used direct snap role.
Vanderbilt got on the board first as two Florida penalties, including a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct flag on junior linebacker Antonio Morrison, helped the Commodores complete a seven-play, 86-yard scoring drive on their second series. With defenders in his face, quarterback Johnny McCrary hit tight end Steven Scheu for a 33-yard touchdown on a post pattern.
Florida was able to respond immediately due in large part to great field position gifted by a short kickoff and penalty committed by Vanderbilt. Sophomore running back Kelvin Taylor carried the ball six times for 34 yards and concluded the 10-play, 60-yard drive with a 13-yard scamper into the end zone to tie the game 7-7 late in the first quarter.
The Gators threatened again on their next possession but were unable to punch it in the end zone. Harris connected with sophomore wide receiver Ahmad Fulwood for 48 yards, but Florida failed to gain a yard on three goal line runs, turning the ball over on downs.
Luckily for UF, Vanderbilt RB Ralph Webb coughed up the ball a couple plays later, and a recovery by senior safety Jabari Gorman gave the Gators another shot. This time, a fourth-down run at the goal line worked and was upheld after review with Driskel going over the top for a rushing score.
It was not long before Florida had another opportunity to score as Webb fumbled again on the next possession; it was forced by Morrison and recovered by sophomore cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. The Gators stumbled and were only able to gain 20 total yards on nine plays, but redshirt senior kicker Frankie Velez booted a season-long 40-yard field goal to boost UF’s lead to 17-7, an advantage it kept into the break.
Florida relied on redshirt senior WR Quinton Dunbar to extend its lead early in the fourth quarter. Dunbar dropped a first-down pass with the Gators backed up near their end zone but made up for the miscue in a major way, hauling in a 12-yard pass to convert a third down and wrangling a 60-yard pass on a post pattern as the third quarter came to a close. He came one yard short of matching his single-game career-high, finishing with 97 yards on the evening. Two plays later, faced with 3rd and Goal from the Vanderbilt seven, Harris kept the ball and ran in for a seven-yard touchdown.
The Commodores were quick to answer, however, due in large part to a highlight pitch-and-catch. McCrary, under duress, threw across his body but completed a pass to a well-covered Davis Dudchock, who hauled it in with one hand for a 41-yard gain. VU was forced to settle for a long 48-yard field goal, cutting UF’s lead to 14.
A 34-yard return by redshirt senior WR Andre Debose opened up Florida’s next drive, which moved down the field quickly thanks to a 16-yard rush by junior RB Matt Jones and sophomore WR Demarcus Robinson’s 12-yard grab. Faced with 2nd and 10 at the Commodores 33-yard line, Harris took a quarterback keeper into the end zone, shedding a few would-be tacklers along the way.
Taylor and Jones combined for 30 touches, 137 yards and Taylor’s score.
The Gators pumped their lead up to 24 on their ensuing possession, which began with Hargreaves nabbing an interception at the Vanderbilt 26. Florida was unable to get much going and settled for a 25-yard field goal from Velez to go ahead 34-10 with less than nine minutes remaining.
UF’s defense, which was outstanding after VU’s first offensive series of the game, put an exclamation point on the victory late in the fourth quarter. After redshirt sophomore defensive end Alex McCalister had an interception wiped out due to a holding penalty, freshman cornerback Jalen Tabor hauled in a one-handed pick in the end zone to cinch the game for the Gators. Florida would later stop Vanderbilt inside the 10-yard line after the Commodores drove 59 yards in 11 plays.
UF will look to keep its momentum going when it hosts South Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 15. The game will kick at noon and air live nationally on the SEC Network.
Photo Credit: Mark Humphrey/Associated Press