Florida only has to do one thing to beat Vanderbilt comfortably

It’s not “show up”. I mean, yes, the rules say the Gators need to be physically present to be able to defeat Vanderbilt. But there’s really only one thing Florida must do to make sure there’s no drama in its matchup with Vandy.

It’s simple: don’t let Ke’Shawn Vaughn run wild. Do that, and everything else is cake.

This isn’t an abstract concern. Vaughn was the engine that powered two of Vandy’s three touchdowns when the Commodores ran up an early 21-3 lead on UF last year. He had 56 yards on seven carries (8.0 yards per rush) and took a screen pass 75 yards to the house. Then he got hurt, and shortly thereafter, the Commodore offense seized up.

He played a big role in Vandy’s 21-14 upset win over Missouri this year as well. His 3.3 yards per rush average isn’t spectacular, but it still added up to 96 yards on 29 carries. He made a big impact in the passing game, catching four balls for 80 yards including a 61-yard touchdown catch on a similar screen to the one he popped against Florida last year. Mizzou did hurt itself with an inefficient passing attack, an end zone pick, and two missed field goals, but to the extent the Commodores took it to the Tigers, it was Vaughn doing a lot of the work.

Stopping Vaughn is everything because Vandy is just bad at nearly anything else. It has a couple of pro prospects in WR Kalija Lipscomb and TE Jared Pinkney, but they likely will be rendered inert by an inability to get them the ball.

Ball State grad transfer Riley Neal has been the primary quarterback for the Commodores this year. Backup Mo Hasan provided a spark with his mobility during the win over Missouri. Derek Mason announced Thursday that neither is likely to play against UF because of concussion protocol. There had been some sliver of hope that Neal might go, but it sounds like he won’t. That leaves the job to Deuce Wallace and Allan Walters.

Wallace’s game log is, well, let’s use the word “rough”. This game would be his first start, but he’s played for some stretches here and there. His best showing was either on the road at Purdue, where he completed seven of his 13 passes (54%) for 42 yards (3.2 per attempt), or at Ole Miss, where he completed seven of 16 throws (44%) for 62 yards (3.9 per attempt).

When pressed into duty after Neal went out against South Carolina last weekend, he completed 8-of-17 (47%) for 30 yards (1.8 per attempt) with two picks and no TDs. On the season, he’s completed 43.4% of his throws for 2.9 yards per attempt with three picks and zero scores. And he’s the option Vandy should feel better about.

Walters is a redshirt freshman walk on who’s never played a collegiate snap. That doesn’t sound like the kind of guy you want playing in the Swamp, but the direct quote from Mason was, “I’ll be playing Deuce Wallace and Allan Walters”. It sounds like he’ll go in at some point. If he does that’ll say a lot about the staff’s faith in Wallace, though Wallace’s past performance says a lot about him too.

Even if you put Neal’s figures back into the team picture, Vandy has gained 5.08 yards per pass play (counting sacks as pass plays) prior to garbage time on the year. They’ve gained 5.16 yards per rush, with most of that being Vaughn. But Neal almost certainly won’t play, so again: stop Vaughn and the Commodore offense will have nothing left.

On top of that, Mason’s defense isn’t up to its usual level. For instance with sacks taken out, the ‘Dores have allowed 5.91 yards per rush before garbage time. UK allows 5.8 and the Gators basically couldn’t run except for Josh Hammond’s 76-yard jet sweep, so that poor average is no guarantee. However if the Gators are going to be able to run in any SEC games, it’ll be this one.

VU also allows opponents to complete 64.6% of their passes, which is about four percentage points worse than the next-most generous P5 defense UF has faced in Tennessee. Kyle Trask has settled into a groove of completing 59-64% of throws for a passing efficiency between 145 and 150 in the last four SEC games. Against Tennessee, though, he completed 71% of passes with a passing efficiency of 168.6 despite tossing a couple picks. Vandy’s passing defense is worse than the Vols’ is, and they’ve only intercepted three passes all year.

Stop Vaughn, and Florida will win going away. Don’t stop Vaughn, and the Commodores will be able to hang around a while. That’s it. That’s the entire game. VU’s defense is nothing special, and it’s passing attack aside from screens to Vaughn is dire.

After bottling up D’Andre Swift for a lot of last week’s game, Florida should be able to keep the gifted Vandy running back in check. If able, the Gators will be able to get out their frustrations from a week ago and empty the bench late.

David Wunderlich
David Wunderlich is a born-and-raised Gator and a proud Florida alum. He has been writing about Florida and SEC football since 2006. He currently lives in Naples Italy, at least until the Navy stations his wife elsewhere. You can follow him on Twitter @Year2