The No. 20 Gators defeated Vanderbilt 42-0 on Homecoming on Saturday afternoon.
Here are my five biggest thoughts on the week that was.
1. This team isn’t very entertaining to watch at times.
They played Vanderbilt, one of the worst teams in the FBS. This should’ve been a game where they scored a ton of points early, got the starters out of the game and let the younger players get the entire second half. It should’ve been a light-hearted, feel-good type of a game before heading into a tough two-game stretch.
Instead, the Gators were a frustrating team to watch for most of the game despite the 42-0 score. The offense continued to commit penalties that derailed drives. Anthony Richardson threw an ugly interception. The defense got carved up through the air in the first half. It would’ve been a 21-13 game at halftime if Vanderbilt had a competent kicker and the touchdown pass on fourth-and-goal hadn’t been overturned.
They took care of business on the scoreboard, but it wasn’t a smooth or particularly fun ride to get there.
That’s been a recurring theme this season. They only led Florida Atlantic 14-0 at halftime. South Florida outscored them 17-7 in the second half. They only led Tennessee 17-14 at the break.
When they’re playing these overmatched opponents like this, I’d prefer to see them give me more reasons to be optimistic than reasons to be nervous about what might lie ahead. They didn’t do that against Vandy.
2. It was great to see the vertical passing game get going.
Yes, Vanderbilt’s defense is awful, but the Gators still had to run good routes, make accurate throws and make the catches.
They did all of those things more often than not. They completed four passes of greater than 30 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown from Emory Jones to Dameon Pierce.
It was particularly nice to see Jacob Copeland finally break out. If you take away his five catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns against USF, he had only caught 11 balls for 116 yards and no touchdowns in the other four games.
On back-to-back plays against the Commodores, he hauled in a 47-yard pass on a post pattern and then turned a short hitch into a 25-yard touchdown. He finished the game with five catches for 79 yards.
I don’t expect this offense to become as explosive through the air as the 2020 team was, but I would like to see a more consistent downfield passing attack moving forward.
3. The makeshift offensive line didn’t play very well.
Left tackle Richard Gouraige didn’t dress for the game due to an injury, and center Kingsley Eguakun left the game with an injury.
Michael Tarquin started at left tackle, while Richie Leonard filled in at center.
It probably wasn’t entirely on them, but the offensive line played poorly against Vandy. They only rushed for 181 yards and 5.3 yards per carry, and those numbers were heavily skewed by Nay’Quan Wright’s 35-yard run and Jeremy Crawshaw’s 28-yard scamper on a fake punt.
If you take those two plays out, UF rushed for 118 yards on their other 32 carries (3.7 yards per carry). That’s terrible, especially against a defense as bad as Vanderbilt’s.
They also allowed six quarterback hurries, including one that led to Richardson’s interception.
The offensive line started off this season very well, but they’ve had a rough couple of weeks now.
4. The defense played much better in the second half.
That first half was about the worst half of defense you can possibly play without giving up any points.
Vanderbilt gained 200 yards. They entered UF territory on four consecutive drives. UF allowed the Commodores to run 49 plays in the first half despite them not being an up-tempo team, which hurt the Gators’ ability to find a rhythm on offense.
After Dan Mullen challenged the defense at halftime, they played much better in the second half. Vanderbilt only gained 87 yards on their 31 plays in the second half (2.8 yards per play). They only reached UF territory twice, and one of those drives began on Florida’s half of the field after Jones’ interception.
Florida’s defense played phenomenally in the second half; now they need to get the first half figured out.
5. Rashad Torrence played a terrific game.
He made a whopping 13 tackles in the first half and finished with 15 stops for the game, including 1.5 for losses.
It felt like he was around the ball on every single play in the first half. His pursuit was excellent, his tackling form was great and he didn’t appear to miss any tackles or have any coverage breakdowns.
His partner in crime, Trey Dean, also played at a high level and made his first interception of the season.
LSU’s program is in shambles right now, but the one thing that they still do well is throw the deep ball. As of Saturday, they led the SEC in pass completions of longer than 40 yards. So, the Gators need Torrence and Dean to pick up where they left off next week.