Florida football score, takeaways: No. 6 Gators steady as defense creates questions in 38-17 win

By Adam Silverstein
November 21, 2020
Florida football score, takeaways: No. 6 Gators steady as defense creates questions in 38-17 win

Image Credit: @GatorsFB / Twitter

Not every game is going to be a blowout or massive offensive showcase — even against a winless opponent. The No. 6 Florida Gators learned that Saturday as they took some hits early but ultimately cruised to a 38-17 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores in Nashville, Tennessee.

Florida trailed twice in the opening quarter but outscored Vanderbilt 31-7 over the final three quarters for the three-touchdown road victory. In doing so, the Gators improved to 29-1 against the Commodores in their last 30 meetings with 15 straight wins in Nashville.

Florida (6-1) continues its trek toward a likely SEC Championship Game berth, while Vanderbilt (0-7) has a ton of questions to answer, including whether it will win a game before the season is out. What went down on Saturday afternoon? Let’s dive into some takeaways from the Gators’ latest victory.

1. Kyle Trask’s Heisman Trophy campaign continues: Though he did not continue his streak with four touchdown passes at Vanderbilt, it’s no matter. Florida’s redshirt senior quarterback was once again spectacular, completing 26 of 35 passes for 383 yards with three touchdowns. Most of those nine incompletions were actually drops by Gators pass catchers, and Trask made numerous highlight-reel plays, including a tremendous toss into the end zone to hit senior wide receiver Trevon Grimes for a touchdown and an improvised rollout 46-yard pass to redshirt sophomore WR Justin Shorter. Trask completed passes to nine receivers and targeted 11 over the course of the game.

Senior WR Kadarius Toney registered a career-high 107 yards receiving with a touchdown, while redshirt junior tight end Kemore Gamble caught three balls for 66 yards and two touchdowns. (That’s the second-straight game that a backup tight end had two touchdowns with junior Kyle Pitts sidelined.) Grimes finished with 44 yards, Shorter picked up 94, and redshirt sophomore WR Jacob Copeland was targeted frequently with five catches for 56 yards.

Many are focused on the touchdown statistic when it comes to Trask’s candidacy for the Heisman, but no quarterback can be expected to set records every time they step on the field. While Trask was dominating the Commodores, his toughest competition in Ohio State QB Justin Fields completed just 18 of 30 for 300 yards with two touchdowns and three interceptions plus 78 yards rushing and another score. Alabama QB Mac Jones finished just 16 of 24 for 230 yards with two touchdowns and a pick, while Clemson QB Trevor Lawrence did not play this week.

So no, Trask did not throw 4+ touchdowns for a seventh straight game, but his 31 TD passes are an SEC record for most through seven games, and he’s just one off the FBS lead in that category. All while Fields faltered in a huge opportunity to impress voters. Trask should be the favorite for the Heisman, and Saturday’s effort should have proven that even further.

2. Gators offense continues to roll: No surprise here given what we just mentioned. Florida has now scored 36+ points in nine straight games, the longest stretch in program history, and has posted 24+ in 22 of its last 24 games under head coach Dan Mullen. The Gators had 586 yards of offense Saturday and now have 144 offensive touchdowns in 33 games under Mullen compared to 93 in 38 games from 2015-17. UF’s 313 points through seven games this season are the third-most by this point in program history and the most since it scored 366 in the 1996 national championship season.

Questions may occasionally arise about some of Mullen’s decisions, such as an apparent over-reliance on screen passes that have not been successful in recent weeks, but there’s no questioning his play calling acumen, which was apparent all day in Nashville. The guts to call a play action pass from inside the 1-yard line to a backup tight end. Running similar plays in rapid succession to take advantage of obvious weaknesses.

If the stats did not tell the story, let’s make it simple: This is one of the best Florida offenses run by one of the best Florida coaches and one of the best Florida quarterbacks in program history. Mullen improved to 27-6 through his first 33 games, a mark that matches Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier, neither of whom made it to 28-6.

3. No reason to believe in the defense: Whether you want to place the blame on defensive coordinator Todd Grantham, the players or a combination of both, it’s clear the Gators defense is unlikely to resemble or grow into anything that can be considered trustworthy this season. After taking advantage of bad quarterbacking for multiple weeks, Florida reverted to its normal self defensively against Vanderbilt. UF allowed 406 yards of offense and 8 of 16 conversions on third and fourth down. The Commodores frequently made big plays on third-and-long, including a 58-yard for their lone score of the second half.

But wait, that sounds impressive. Only one score in the entire second half? Fair enough, but Florida allowed scores on Vanderbilt’s first two possessions, and again, we point to the total yardage and inability to get off the field on key downs. ‘Dores starting QB Ken Seals threw for 319 yards and two touchdowns, usually getting what he wanted as he took advantage of UF’s weak safety play. Strangely, head coach Derek Mason tried and failed to run the ball on multiple series when Vanderbilt was clearly beating Florida through the air. The final score does not tell the story of the secondary being a major liability for the Gators, one they will have to overcome in a tougher spot sooner than later.

“Everything’s a concern for me — the offensive breakdowns, the defensive breakdowns. They’re all concerns for me,” said Mullen, who tried to avoid criticizing the defense. “That’s what we do — we go coach them up and get them fixed. If it is one thing, then it should be easy to fix one thing on the sideline. We did that on several of the things we fixed on the sidelines. Some of it is stuff we got to get fixed during the week and get better at.”

4. Better safe than sorry: After Florida suffered a COVID-19 outbreak following the Texas A&M road trip, Mullen decided to take numerous precautions throughout the trip. Among those was a completely altered pregame schedule due in large part to Vanderbilt’s notoriously lacking visitor’s locker room. As such, the Gators dressed at the hotel, arrived at the stadium late (as scheduled) and basically just put their cleats on before taking the field. They also remained on the field at halftime rather than go into the locker room, an odd sight during an odd season. Perhaps the changes in procedure were a bit to blame for the slow start, not to mention the 11 a.m. local time kickoff.

5. Odds and ends: Sophomore cornerback Kaiir Elam had a game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter … Toney’s fumble in ‘Dores territory was the Gators’ lone miscue in the game … Florida improved to 20-7-1 all-time against Vanderbilt in Nashville … the Gators are 23-1 when leading after the third quarter, 17-0 when allowing 20 points or fewer and 21-0 when outrushing their opponent under Mullen … UF is now 21-2 against unranked teams under Mullen … Florida has scored in 405 consecutive games, an NCAA record … the Gators wore white helmets for the first time this season

6. What’s next? Florida returns home to host Kentucky on Saturday. The Gators have won 32 of their last 33 games against the Wildcats but did fall 27-16 in The Swamp during Mullen’s first campaign in 2018.

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