Florida vs. Vanderbilt score, takeaways: Gators take care of business despite early miscues

By OnlyGators.com Staff
October 7, 2023
Florida vs. Vanderbilt score, takeaways: Gators take care of business despite early miscues

Image Credit: UAA

The Florida Gators rebounded at home Saturday with a relatively painless 38-14 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida. Though there were some mistakes to clean up — as head coach Billy Napier admitted after the game — the Gators earned a measure of revenge against the ‘Dores, which embarrassed them on the road last season.

Napier also admitted Saturday that Florida felt a level of embarrassment coming off last week’s loss to Kentucky. As such, he was pleased with the way his team responded despite it being down a handful of offensive starters before kickoff.

In the end, the Gators comparative strength at the line of scrimmage won out on both ends of the field with the visitors only generating one true score based purely on their offensive play. Florida’s defense got after the passer and limited achievement on the key downs with the game never seeming as if it was out of UF’s control.

Let’s take a look at what went down with the Gators victorious on homecoming.

Weapon acquired

The most notable outcome Saturday was a breakout performance from redshirt freshman tight end Arlis Boardingham, who hauled in seven balls for a team-high 99 yards and two touchdowns. Boardingham early and often served as a bit of a safety blanket for redshirt junior quarterback Graham Mertz, who looked to him for 40% of his production in the game. Injuries have kept Boardingham from making as much of an impact as Napier intended but Florida finding a second high-rate pass catcher behind senior wide receiver Ricky Pearsall — especially with sophomore WR Caleb Douglas injured — is a key development for what has largely been a stagnant offense this season.

Pearsall totalled 67 yards and a touchdown on six touches Saturday with freshman WR Eugene Wilson III taking eight receptions for 64 yards and his first career score. Junior running back Montrell Johnson Jr. was dominant early — finishing with 135 yards rushing and a touchdown with notable gains of 34 and 27 yards in the first half – while freshman RB Treyaun Webb picked up the slack late with 70 yards on four carries, including a 43-yard burst that helped put the game away in the fourth quarter.

Among the Gators’ six scoring drives were a nine-play, 93-yard trek to open the game and a 14-play, 91-yard clock-eater midway through the third quarter, both of which resulted in touchdowns.

Rebounding from a rough start

Despite Florida starting with a 7-0 lead and never trailing in the game, it was not all roses in The Swamp. Sitting at midfield on the team’s second possession of the game after having gotten whatever he wanted on the opening drive, Napier called for a double pass with redshirt sophomore WR Kahleil Jackson underthrowing the ball for an interception. Vanderbilt took over deep in its own territory and scored an 85-yard touchdown a couple plays later. Why? Sophomore cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. – after having his facemask grabbed without a call – decided not to pursue the Dores’ pass catcher to the ground or out of bounds, allowing him to scramble up the field and into the end zone.

Other significant first-half miscues include a roughing the passer penalty on redshirt freshman defensive lineman Caleb Banks that negated a third-down stop and freshman CB Ja’Keem Jackson getting completely beaten up the middle of the field for a 52-yard reception. However, the Gators snuffed out the Dores’ series after Banks’ mistake — freshman EDGE T.J. Searcy forced a fumble recovered by redshirt junior CB Jalen Kimber — and Jackson broke up two passes in the end zone to atone for his coverage sin.

Florida ultimately held Vanderbilt to 1 of 10 on third down and 0 of 3 on fourth down. The Commodores only gained 13 first downs on the game, while the Gators were 6 for 6 in the red zone on the evening.

A few issues

A relatively clean win for Florida did not come without its brief moments of additional frustration, which must be detailed simply to point out how some program deficiencies poked through even in victory. These do not include the aforementioned miscues that were far more notable in the game.

  • Twice while in negative down and distance due to penalties, the Gators basically gave up on drives: on both second-and-25 and second-and-22 at different points in the game, passes were thrown behind the line of scrimmage. The second time, Florida did luck into a third-and-15 conversion, but the crowd was clearly frustrated by these moments in the game.
  • After moving into the red zone in the second half, the Gators committed consecutive penalties — block in the back, illegal snap — that ruined a drive and resulted in the lone field goal of the game, a successful 40-yard boot from sophomore kicker Trey Smack.
  • During a key punt earlier in the game, Florida’s coverage unit was fooled by the Vanderbilt returner, allowing a punt that easily could have been downed inside the 5 to instead bounce through the end zone.

Odds & ends

Florida improved to 44-11-2 all-time against Vanderbilt with a 24-2-1 record in The Swamp … the Dores scored their first points in The Swamp since 2017; they were outscored 98-0 the prior two meetings … Florida has won five straight home games … under Napier, the Gators are 9-0 when leading after the third quarter and 9-2 when rushing for at least 150 yards … Florida is 34-11 against unranked opponents since 2018 … the Gators have scored in 442 consecutive games, an NCAA record

What it means

Most impressive about the victory is how easy it came despite Florida being down two starting offensive linemen, a starting wide receiver, its best running back and a handful of other key players spanning both sides of the ball. With the Gators short-handed, it would not have been a surprise to see them struggle a bit up front, but it was never an issue. Florida largely won not with scheme but simply by out-talenting Vanderbilt, which makes UF’s loss last season even that more frustrating. Ultimately, the Gators won a game they should have won in a venue where they should win. Nothing gained, nothing lost. What will actually be an indication of improvement is if …

What’s next?

… Florida plays the way it did today next week when it visits South Carolina in a game that will air at 3:30 p.m. ET on SEC Network. The Gamecocks will be looking for revenge after getting run through by the Gators last season, and all eyes will be on Florida to see whether it can shake its road woes under Napier. UF is 0-2 away from home this season with losses coming by an average of 16 points. The Gators are 1-7 away from home under Napier.

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