Not much worked in Florida’s 34-17 loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores but it wasn’t all bad for the Gators, although if you sat in the stands you might have drawn a different conclusion. Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first, shall we?
What didn’t work:
1. Giving Vanderbilt short fields
The Commodores had touchdown drives of four, 10 and 22 yards respectively, and besides being really short, they all had another thing in common: they all came immediately after Tyler Murphy interceptions. Two happened in the first half, which is how the Commodores had 92 yards of total offense at the break yet somehow had a two touchdown lead. Vanderbilt head coach James Franklin even admitted to the statistical oddities.
“The difference in the game was the turnovers,” Franklin said after the game. “If you look at it statistically, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, but because of the turnovers that our defense was able to get, our offense was in a short field a lot of times.”
The game was oddly reminiscent of another turnover-fueled victory in The Swamp, just last season when Florida beat South Carolina, 44-11, thanks in large part to touchdown drives of one, two and 29 yards.
2. Fourth down defense
Entering the game Florida’s defense was 2-8 stopping opponents on fourth down. That changed Saturday when Vanderbilt quarterback Patton Robinette scrambled for two fourth down conversions. Both extended series, and the two drives produced 10-combined point for the Commodores.
3. Florida’s rushing attack
The 34 attempts were the second lowest in a game this year, and the 39 rushing yards were a season low. Having to play from behind the entire game forced the Gators to throw the ball 46 times, the most attempts in a game by Florida since 2002. In a perfect world, Florida’s rushing attack should at least offset the burden, and it was assumed that the ground game could even be a strong suit against a Vanderbilt team that was seventh in SEC rushing defense. That wasn’t the case; the Gators were only able to muster 1.1 yards per attempt, furthering offensive ineptitude.
What did work:
1. Boo bird’s vocal chords
They were loud, and they were proud for the first time in two years clear as day the boos cascaded from fans that were fed up from watching Florida’s offense struggle week in and week out. Many are against booing one’s home team, but some feel the price of admission earns them the right to say or do what they want in the stands, and they were open with their disgust Saturday.
2. Kickoff coverage
It’s an overlooked aspect of the game, but it’s something Florida does very well. The Gators only allow 16.44 yards per return, third in the nation in that category. Big returns routinely break games open, that’s why it was important to limit the Commodores to one return for 13 yards. At that point in the game the Gators had finally put points on the board, making the score 17-3. The last thing they needed was for Vanderbilt to get back into great field position with a long return. Then Gators stopped Darrius Sims before he reached the 20-yard line. Florida’s defense then forced a three and out, and Vernon Hargreaves fielded the ensuing punt at the Vanderbilt 46, setting Florida up with good field positioning. Although Tyler Murphy fumbled on the next play, Florida won a short sequence in the field position battle, thanks in large part to good kickoff coverage.
3. Spreading the wealth
Tyler Murphy’s 46 passes certainly weren’t all to the same person. Eleven different receivers caught passes including three freshmen. One reception was the circus catch of the season when a Vanderbilt defensive back kicked a ball in the air and Ahmad Fulwood snagged it with one hand for a touchdown. Murphy also found Tevin Westbrook for his third catch of the season. With Jordan Reed at tight end last season the position was much more than a safety valve. This season has been the exact opposite. Westbrook’s three receptions this year account for all the receptions by Florida’s tight ends in 2013.