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Spread: Gators are favored by 9.
O/U: 41 (via OddsShark)
The Florida Gators-Vanderbilt Commodores rivalry began in 1945. The two teams did not meet annually until the SEC went to divisions in 1992, though. The Gators lead the overall series 38-10-2 and have won the last 25 of 26. The lone loss since 1988 for the Gators came during the 4-8 campaign of 2013. It still stands as the Commodores only win in The Swamp. The last two meetings have been extremely close, 9-7 and 13-6, as both ended in low-scoring defensive battles.
The Commodores will don the Storm Trooper unis, while the Gators will rock the 80’s look with orange tops, orange lids and white pants.
Vanderbilt Commodores 3-1 (0-1)
The Commodores come in fresh off a 59-0 shellacking at the hands of the #1 Alabama Crimson Tide. They had some nice momentum before running into Saban’s buzzsaw. In the win over #18 Kansas State Wildcats, the Commodore defense held the Big 12 Wildcats to 277 total yards and forced two turnovers.
Under Derek Mason, the stingy Vandy defense has always been the staple. Even after giving up 496 yards on the ground against the Tide, they are still ranked in the top 12 in red zone efficiency and 3rd down defense.
Through the first four games, this team is extremely hard to read. They looked very impressive in the first three games, only to be outgained by 599 yards last weekend. Against Florida, I expect to see the team that won in gritty fashion against Kansas State with a suffocating defensive scheme and timely offensive playcalling.
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur is an accurate passer and with adequate time can find his spots. Stud running back and Gainesville-native Ralph Webb has an affinity for breaking off big runs in his hometown and will need to give the Vanderbilt offense a spark after being shut down against the Tide.
Webb has 3,516 rushing yards in his career. The Commodore back looks to enter the SEC’s Top 10 career rushing leaders by the end of the season. This matchup against the Gators defense will be less of a test than last week and the Gators have shown in the first three games that their young defense can be run on successfully.
This is especially true when the defense is on the field for consecutive possessions or extended periods of time in the second half. I expect the Vandy offense to try to mix up the playcalling and control the time of possession to tire the Gator defense. If successful, Webb could have another 100-yard outing in Gainesville and the Commodores will have a great chance to win late.
#21 Florida Gators 2-1 (2-0)
The Gators come in after another SEC East thriller, beating Kentucky on the last possession of the game. After three games, I am still not sure what to make of this team offensively either. The Gators are 13th in the SEC in yards per game with 322, but that includes the miserable 192 yards they put up against Michigan. They have played three quarterbacks and still have not decided on a starting running back although freshman Malik Davis got the bulk of the carries in the second half last week.
The offensive line was the weakest unit in Game 1. They appeared to turn a corner against Kentucky though, rushing for 186. Against the ‘Cats, quarterback Feleipe Franks started the game, but was pulled in favor of Luke Del Rio when the Gators found themselves down by 13 in the second half. Del Rio completed the game and had the game-winning touchdown pass with 43 seconds left on the clock. McElwain announced Wednesday that Del Rio would be the starter against the Commodores.
Mac says he never really looked at Del Rio as the third string but they felt they needed a kick start. Says Franks didn't do anything wrong.— Andrew Spivey (@AndrewSpiveyGC) September 27, 2017
The offense became stale in the 3rd quarter (as it has all season), but when Del Rio came in it was clear that the offense moved more quickly and had more of an identity. It appears that Del Rio has a better grasp on the playbook allowing offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier to get more of the playmakers involved.
Del Rio was injured for the Vanderbilt game last year so it will be interesting to see how he handles the stingy Mason-led defense. I expect him to have more success than Appleby did last year or Franks has this year. This is due to his ability to get the ball to the right player each and every play, the area that Franks has struggled in the most.
The Gators defensive identity is coming together much more clearly through three games. The corners, alongside senior Duke Dawson, are young but have played above expectations thus far. The defensive line, led by Taven Bryan and breakout sophomore Jachai Polite, has accounted for 9.5 of the team’s 10 sacks on the season.
The weakest unit of the defense has been the linebackers. Injuries, ejections and suspensions can be to blame here. The Gators linebackers have missed a starter in each of the last two games and it has shown in the second half when the Vols and ‘Cats were able to break big runs up the middle.
Because of Vosean Joseph’s targeting ejection in the second half, the thin unit will be without another starter for the first half on Saturday. The tackling has also been an issue with the linebackers and the safeties and will need to be addressed before meeting Ralph Webb. I expect safety Chauncey Garnder to show out this week after being embarrassed in the media this week for his effort.
Keys to the Game
Florida tackling vs. Ralph Webb
The young Florida defense has been hounded about their tackling and the statistics show that they are the worst in the SEC (by a wide margin) in that category.
Least shocking stat of the season: Alabama has the lowest missed tackle rate in the SEC pic.twitter.com/LC7AKofXPl— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 29, 2017
Poor tackling is not a staple of the Gator defense and it may be attributable to the amount of youth, injuries and suspensions at the linebacker spots. Certainly, losing strong safety Marcell Harris hurts. But the surprising part is that most of the poor tackling has come from defensive leaders Nick Washington and Chauncey Gardner, who were expected to step up in run support.
Florida safety Chauncey Gardner has an unfathomable 47.8% missed tackle rate thru three games.— CFB Film Room (@CFBFilmRoom) September 28, 2017
Just like John Kelly and Benny Snell, Ralph Webb can make the Gators pay if the poor tackling continues. In 2015 Webb ran for 118 yards on 22 carries and in 2016 he gained 110 yards on 24 carries. Both of those defenses had proven tacklers and still managed to give up 100+ yards to the Gainesville product each time. Can the Gators fix their tackling or will Webb reach 100+ yards again?
Kyle Shurmur vs. Florida secondary
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur did not play well against the Gators last year, but comes into this weekend with a 80.1 QBR. That mark is one of the best in FBS, even after his poor performance against Alabama. The young UF secondary allowed UK quarterback Stephen Johnson to pick his spots early. The Vanderbilt offense could see the same type of early success behind Shurmur’s accurate arm. The Gators have five interceptions on the season (three returned for TDs), but failed to record an INT last week against the ‘Cats for the first time all year. Can Kyle Shurmur stay comfortable in the face of the Gator pass rush to deliver downfield?
Luke Del Rio, Game Manager
Despite the interception against the ‘Cats, #14 played well enough to win the game and everyone watching could tell that the offense was much more crisp with him in the game. Maybe this is exactly what the Gators need to eclipse 400 yards and put some pressure on the Vanderbilt offense to try to score late points against an aggressive Florida defense. Can Luke Del Rio expand the playbook and get the ball to the play makers?
News & Injuries
- Florida linebacker Kylan Johnson is hopeful to return after missing the last two games with a hamstring injury.
McElwain said Kylan Johnson has been practicing. Could potentially play vs. Vandy. Would help with LB depth. #Gators— Jordan McPherson (@J_McPherson1126) September 27, 2017
- Nine suspended Gators still suspended.
- Injured Gators wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland and defensive tackle Khairi Clark are expected to play after getting banged up against Kentucky last week.
DT Khairi Clark (calf) a game-time decision, LB Kylan Johnson (hamstring) has practiced. WR Tyrie Cleveland (shoulder) 'still sore.'— Edgar Thompson (@osgators) September 27, 2017
The experts in the desert believe this game will end with 41 total points between the two teams. Judging by the last two meetings, the history of the rivalry and the SEC rankings of these two offenses (13th vs. 14th), I expect this game to be close and low-scoring.
The Gators are optimistic that the change to Del Rio will allow the offense to expand because the young play makers (athlete Kadarious Toney, running back Malik Davis and wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland) have been identified.
The Commodores lost all the momentum they had last weekend and will have to dig deep against a Gator team that may be finding their identity. If defensive scheme and experience can give Del Rio and company trouble, the Commodores could set themselves up for a few turnovers and 3-and-outs. Especially early in the game while Del Rio tries to get into rhythm.
Shurmur and the Vanderbilt offense should follow the Kentucky blueprint (sans the uncovered receivers) taking their shots early. If successful, using Ralph Webb to run through a tired Gator defense would be their next move.
I’m drinking the Nussmeier-Del Rio Kool-Aid and believe we see the Gator offense grow just enough this weekend to dispose of the Commodores. Vandy comes in to Gainesville still licking their 59-0 wounds. After some field goals and turnovers by both teams, Vandy keeps it close until the Gators find some 4th quarter fire (or luck) and prove too much for the ‘Dores.
Prediction: Florida 23, Vanderbilt 12