Almost everything that could’ve gone wrong for Florida did in the first half against Vanderbilt, and Vanderbilt could not have had a better start.
The No. 14 Florida Gators entered the game 5-1 and coming off a win over then-Top-5 LSU. Vanderbilt was 3-3 after getting beat pretty thoroughly by Georgia. In the first half, you probably thought the two teams were reversed.
Florida started the game hot, but Feleipe Franks threw a pick on the goal line. Vanderbilt subsequently drove 98 yards and scored on touchdown pass from Kyle Shurmur to Jared Pinkney. Florida answered with a field goal. What did Vandy do next? Just score on a 75-yard screen pass to Ke’Shawn Vaughn to go up 14-3. Florida started driving two possessions later, only for Franks to fumble the ball. Vanderbilt took that gift and scored in just 4 plays to go up 21-3.
It was nightmare time for Florida, but they were able to respond with a touchdown and then force Vandy to punt on the next possession. Then things got weird. Florida took the punt, and was called for a block in the back and targeting penalty. A Vanderbilt player also got injured on the play. As Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason went out to his player, some words were exchanged on both sidelines. Then the benches got cleared.
After a targeting call, things got chippy in the Florida/Vanderbilt game pic.twitter.com/UJBna9MKSh— ESPN (@espn) October 13, 2018
Every single player was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, and two Gator linebackers were ejected. Florida was backed up 30 yards, but responded with a field goal to end the half after a 63-yard pass to Lamical Perine. Florida entered halftime down 21-13.
Florida came out of halftime and punted. Vanderbilt looked to take control of the game, but missed a 25-yard field goal. Florida responded with two straight touchdown drives, one of which was aided by a fake punt conversion from Kylo-Ren-lookalike Tommy Townsend.
The drama wasn’t over yet, as Florida fumbled again to give Vanderbilt great field position and eventually a field goal. The Gators did not get phased however, and scored another touchdown on a leaping Freddie Swain touchdown grab and one more field goal. A Chauncey Gardner-Johnson interception sealed the deal.
After trailing 21-3, the Gators defeated Vanderbilt 37-27 with a 24-0 run in the second and third quarters. Both Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett had 100+ yards rushing, and Feleipe Franks threw for a career-high 284 yards. Despite throwing for 229 yards, Shurmur and the Commodores offense could not move the ball in the second half. The biggest reason: Ke’Shawn Vaughn. The explosive rusher going down in the first half handicapped the Vanderbilt offense and they couldn’t respond.
The Gators enter the bye week 6-1, improving to bowl eligible after last season’s 4-win campaign. Their showdown with Georgia in Jacksonville in two weeks looms large. Vanderbilt meanwhile falls to 3-4 and travels to face the No. 18 Kentucky Wildcats next week.