Florida vs. Vanderbilt score, takeaways: No. 20 Gators rocky in homecoming rout of ‘Dores

By Adam Silverstein
October 9, 2021
Florida vs. Vanderbilt score, takeaways: No. 20 Gators rocky in homecoming rout of ‘Dores
Football

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

Homecoming inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium went exactly as expected for the No. 20 Florida Gators, which routed the visiting Vanderbilt Commodores 42-0 in a game that was never close but did nevertheless create further angst for the hosts. Florida’s quarterback play and overall defensive effort was so poor in the first half that head coach Dan Mullen actually went outside his comfort zone to criticize it publicly at halftime.

Then the Gators turned on the jets in the second half, putting forth better production in the first 6 minutes of the third quarter than they did in the entire opening 30 minutes. The result was the second shutout of Vanderbilt in the last three seasons and Florida’s second SEC win of the season.

What went down Saturday as the Gators got some of their mojo back in The Swamp? Let’s take a look with takeaways from Florida vs. Vanderbilt.

1. The good: Neither the Gators offense nor redshirt junior quarterback Emory Jones were perfect on Saturday, but both did enough to impress on occasion, which is not something that has been said frequently this season. Florida actually posted better figures int he first 6:14 of the second half than it did in the entire first 30 minutes of the game. Jones tossed a career-high four touchdowns, completing 14 of 22 passes for 273 yards with an interception and 40 yards rushing to boot. His pick was a disaster: Though it was off a tipped ball in the third quarter, it was a pass Jones never should have thrown in the first place.

But other than that and a couple missed tosses early in the first quarter, he made some excellent strikes, including a deft 9-yard touchdown pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Trent Whittemore in the second quarter, a 61-yard scoring strike up the middle of the field to senior running back Dameon Pierce early in the third quarter, and a 25-yard touchdown pass to redshirt junior WR Jacob Copeland later that period (following a 47-yard pass to Copeland as part of a two-play scoring drive).

So yes, Jones was effective. Pierce scored three touchdowns on the afternoon, including two on the ground on short-yardage situations, and redshirt sophomore RB Nay’Quan Wright posted a career-high 103 yards from scrimmage on just nine touches, including a 35-yard run on the first offensive series and an awesome 50-yard catch-and-run that led to Whittemore’s touchdown in the second quarter. Sophomore WR Ja’Quavion Fraziers scored the game’s other touchdown on a 5-yard jump pass from Jones.

Defensively, a turnover-deficient unit took advantage of a turnover-happy Commodores team. Redshirt senior defensive lineman Daquan Newkirk and senior safety Trey Dean III each grabbed interceptions, both of which Florida converted into touchdowns. Dean also had two impressive pass breakups in one of his best efforts. The Gators, of course, also shut out the Commodores (though that doesn’t tell the entire story), picking up three sacks and six tackles for loss as sophomore S Rashad Torrence was all over the field with 15 tackles. Sophomore DL Gervon Dexter constantly found himself in the pocket with three quarterback hurries.

2. The bad: As mentioned, the notable defensive feats do not tell the entire story. Vanderbilt missed three field goals and failed to convert from inside the 5-yard line on Florida, giving up 9-16 potential points, depending how you want to categorize their miscues. The ‘Dores were in position to score so often because the Gators allowed them 200 yards of total offense with 14 first downs in the first half. Against Georgia two weeks ago, Vanderbilt managed just 77 total yards and four first downs … in the entire game.

Asked at halftime to evaluate UF’s defense, Mullen was short and accurate: “Awful.”

Now, credit where it’s due because the Gators did lock things down in the second half even with their reserves in for the entire fourth quarter. Florida allowed just 87 total yards and five first downs over the final 30 minutes.

Beyond Jones’ interception, redshirt freshman QB Anthony Richardson threw one as well. Though he can be given a bit more leniency as his arm was hit upon throwing, that only occurred because the pocket collapsed due to Richardson not being able to get the ball out fast enough and not realizing he needed to tuck the rock. In a game where it felt like Richardson could get significant run, he instead only played two short series in the first half and the fourth quarter. Mullen gave him little opportunity to accomplish much of anything by calling short passes and runs with him in the game. While airing it out late with a second-team offensive line in a game that you’re already up six touchdowns would probably be a bad look, Richardson certainly could’ve been given more opportunities in the first half, especially considering Mullen was displeased with Jones’ play early.

3. The ugly: Let’s start with the good news: Florida did not commit a penalty in the fourth quarter. Now for the bad: The Gators were popped with eight flags for 80 yards over the first 45 minutes. Combined with last week’s disciplinary shit-show at Kentucky, the totals for Florida over a seven-quarter span are 23 penalties for 195 yards. That’s 27.8 yards per quarter or the equivalent of nearly three first downs gifted to the opponent.

On Saturday, there were two 15-yard penalties on a single series, giving Vanderbilt a red zone opportunity it didn’t deserve (and a better team would have converted). The first was a terrible unnecessary roughness call, but the second — targeting on sophomore S Tre’Vez Johnson — was an unnecessary but correct, leading to him being kicked out of the game. In the same quarter, UF wiped its own first down off the board with an illegal formation.

This discipline problem is simply not sustainable. Not going into Death Valley next week to face LSU, and certainly not in three weeks when the Gators face the nation’s best defense, their biggest rival and the nation’s No. 2 team in the Florida-Georgia game.

4. Odds and ends: Florida shut out Vanderbilt for the second time in three seasons … the Gators improved to 43-10-2 all-time against the ‘Dores with wins in 30 of the last 31 meetings since 1989 and eight straight since 2014 … UF is now 23-2-1 against VU in The Swamp … under Mullen, Florida is 34-4 when scoring first, 27-3 when leading at halftime, 29-2 when leading after the third quarter, 23-1 when allowing 20 points or fewer and 25-2 when outrushing an opponent … UF is now 25-4 against unranked teams under Mullen … the Gators have scored 24+ points in 30 of their last 34 games and posted 400+ yards of total offense in 15 of their last 16 games … Florida has scored in 416 consecutive games, an NCAA record

5. What it means: Not much, really. The Gators didn’t do anything notable in crushing the ‘Dores, especially given Vanderbilt has now been outscored 104-0 in two SEC games this season (62-0 to Georgia). Mullen clearly planned to use this as a get-right and get-healthy game, and that’s exactly what it did, resting a number of starters, including the likes of junior cornerback Kaiir Elam and senior RB Malik Davis. If UF’s full complement of players are available next week, that’s a win, especially considering a bye week is forthcoming. The biggest takeaway from Saturday’s game, other than the continued penalty issues, is that Florida’s interlocking UF throwback helmets looked fantastic.

6. What’s next: The Gators will look to bounce back from a devastating loss suffered at the end of the 2020 season when Florida looks for revenge at LSU next Saturday in Tiger Stadium. The Tigers have won two straight and eight of the last 11 meetings with the Gators with a 4-1 mark in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, since 2013. The game will be played at noon ET, which may be a bit of a relief to Florida given how wild Death Valley can be at night.

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