Vanderbilt’s defense readies for Florida

At some point this season, Brent Pease believes he will be forced to shelve Florida’s sometimes predictable power running offense and try to win a game with second-year quarterback Jeff Driskel’s arm.

While finding more balance is a common goal for most offensive coordinators, it’s also a potential road block the Gators probably won’t be pressed to cross — at least this week.

On the road Saturday against Vanderbilt (2-3, 1-2 Southeastern Conference), the No. 4 Gators (5-0, 4-0 SEC) will face a defense ranked 11th in the SEC stopping the rush.

The Commodores are giving up an average of 179 yards per game this season and have also allowed 11 running plays of 20-plus yards —– tied for most in the league. Two weeks ago in a 48-3 loss to Georgia, Vanderbilt surrendered 302 rushing yards.

Though that adds up as an enticing front seven for a Florida offense averaging 214.8 yards per game on the ground to test, Pease said he game plans each week with the contingency that his opponent may stop the Gators.

“[Vanderbilt will] understand things,” Pease said. “That’s why you’ve got to be creative. You’ve got to have the ability to have change. … When they get so concerned about the run, you’ve got to be able to go over the top and throw the ball.”

Led by coach James Franklin, the Commodores went into The Swamp last season and nearly upset the Gators in a 26-21 loss.

In preparation for UF’s offense this weekend though, Franklin acknowledged the combination of a new offensive coordinator at Florida and a proven running game has turned the Gators into “another animal.”

“I think that’s where talent, size and power come in,” Franklin said on Monday. “They have a really good offensive line that has grown and matured, and they have a really good back who can make plays. Although it’s obvious that they have made a commitment to running the ball, they still throw the ball effectively enough that they keep you honest.”

While Vanderbilt has not consistently stopped teams from running this season, the Commodores have presented challenges in passing coverage.

Pease pointed out VU junior corner Andre Hal — who has 15 tackles and a team-high five pass break ups — as a potential threat. Hal leads a Vanderbilt secondary that is third in the SEC in passing

defense, allowing just 162.4 yards per game. 

“They’ve always got some moving parts to it because of being a zone pressure team,” Pease said. “There’s a lot of rotation by the secondary, a lot of disguise by blitzes, a lot of hitting different gaps, so it kind of goes back to what we saw in the first game against Bowling Green.”

While they have not quite lived up to their preseason billing, the Commodores also have two capable pass rushers in defensive end Walker May and defensive tackle Rob Lohr.

Heading into this season, Lohr was named to both the Nagurski and Lombardi watch lists but has combined with May for just one sack this year.

Exasperated by the attention his offense has received after last Saturday’s 14-6 win against LSU, Pease bristled when finally asked Tuesday near the end of his press conference how Vanderbilt’s defense would hold up against Florida.

“Yeah, thanks. That’s who we’re playing. God. That’s what I thought I came here for — Vanderbilt’s defense,” Pease said. “Going back to last year, what they did, they’re aggressive.”

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john boothe
John is a former editor and sportswriter with The Independent Florida Alligator and is a recent graduate of the UF College of Journalism and Communications. Over the last three years, he has also written articles for the Ocala Star-Banner and the Gainesville Sun while covering Florida Gators basketball, soccer, women’s lacrosse and local high school sports. A proud native of Ocala, Fla., John likes to fish the Withlacoochee Bay for trout and redfish and listen to bluegrass in his spare time.