A horrible season for the Florida Gators got even worse on Saturday as the Vanderbilt Commodores entered Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL, on homecoming and picked up a 34-17 victory, beating their SEC East rivals for the first time since 1988.
Vanderbilt came through with a win in Gainesville for the first time since 1945, one that ended Florida’s 22-game winning streak in the series. It was also the Commodores’ first league victory against the Gators dating back to when they joined the SEC in 1992.
Florida dropped its fourth-straight game by falling behind early and never finding a way to recover. The Gators are now below .500 for the first time since 1992 and are in the process of breaking their consecutive bowl game streak, which currently stands at 22.
After winning the toss and deferring possession, Florida allowed its opponent to pick up an opening drive score for the third-straight week. Vanderbilt gained 62 yards on 13 plays, converting two first downs in UF territory, and took an early 3-0 lead.
The Gators responded immediately with a 12-play, 48-yard drive, but redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin missed a 44-yard field goal wide right.
Florida committed another miscue just minutes later when redshirt junior quarterback Tyler Murphy, on 1st-and-10 from UF’s 25-yard line, threw an interception that was returned to the 10. On the very next play, VU running back Jerron Seymour rumbled into the end zone to put his team up 10-0 in the first quarter.
Pushed back to their own 15-yard line after junior cornerback Marcus Roberson had a 22-yard punt return negated by a holding penalty, the Gators turned the ball over again. Murphy was looking for redshirt junior wide receiver Quinton Dunbar and had him wide open but was hit as he threw and coughed up his second interception of the game.
The Commodores only needed four rushing plays to gain the 22 yards remaining after the long return, finding pay dirt on a quarterback keeper and taking a 17-0 lead.
The ensuing drive was Florida’s most successful of the first half. The Gators moved the ball well, gaining six first downs and facing 1st-and-Goal at the one-yard line after freshman RB Kelvin Taylor broke away for an 11-yard red zone gain. Rather than simply run it up the gut and across the goal line, Florida squandered its touchdown-scoring opportunity.
On first down, the Gators ran a speed option and Murphy’s toss to Taylor bounce out of bounds for a five-yard loss. He threw incomplete on second down, and a third-down toss to senior WR Solomon Patton was dropped. UF settled for a 23-yard field goal by senior K Brad Phillips at the end of a 17-play, 85-yard drive.
Florida threatened once more before the break with freshman CB Vernon Hargreaves III returning a punt 24 yards to Vanderbilt’s 46 with 30 seconds left on the clock. However, Murphy was sacked and fumbled the first down on UF’s first offensive snap.
Murphy’s fourth turnover of the game occurred two plays into the Gators’ opening possession of the second half. A toss to senior WR Trey Burton was muffed, intercepted and returned to Florida’s four. Two plays later, Seymour scored a touchdown out of the Wildcat to give the Commodores a 24-3 lead.
The Gators finally answered in a real way after Murphy completed a 35-yard pass to Dunbar on 4th-and-3 from Vanderbilt’s 44-yard line. Two plays later, Taylor rumbled into the end zone to cut UF’s deficit down to 24-10 with 7:16 left in the third quarter.
Florida’s defense did not keep up its end of the bargain, however, allowing the visitors to methodically drive down the field, picking up 87 yards on 17 plays, before ending the possession with Seymour’s third touchdown of the afternoon.
Trailing by three touchdowns and trying to find the end zone again, UF moved the ball all the way down to VU’s 17. However, a six-yard sack and 15-yard facemask penalty on junior right tackle Trenton Brown gave the Gators 2nd-and-13 back at Vanderbilt’s 38. Florida punted two plays later.
With the Commodores playing looser defense following a three-and-out, Murphy completed six-straight passes for a total of 73 yards. The last reception was made by freshman WR Ahmad Fulwood in the back of the end zone for a Gators touchdown. Fulwood caught the ball after the defensive back deflected it with his hand of his own foot and it popped into the air.
Florida attempted an onside kick on the ensuing play but neither recovered it nor scored again in the contest.
Vanderbilt did, however. After UF lost 26 yards via a sack on 4th-and-23 – and had a 15-yard penalty tacked on after the play – the Commodores started at the Gators’ 10-yard line and eventually kicked a 31-yard field goal to go up 34-17.
UF must now find a way to win two of its last three games in order to become bowl eligible. Florida will have a tough time doing that, however, with South Carolina and Florida State still on the schedule. The Gators will make an effort to take down the Gamecocks next Saturday on the road in Columbia, SC.
Photo Credit: Phil Sandlin/Associated Press