Florida vs Vanderbilt
10.13.18 / 12:00 PM
One might think that after defeating the fifth-ranked team in the nation, you know what the 2018 Gators are made of. True, this team has accomplished much and proven more. But after three consecutive emotional victories against SEC opposition, it is this weekend that will truly tell us who this year’s team really is.
When you’ve pushed yourself beyond what you previously thought were the limits each of the last four weeks, the natural inclination is to exhale and ease up. It is just Vanderbilt, after all. But that is precisely the mindset that Dan Mullen wants his team to avoid.
The way the Gators have prepared this week and the way they play on Saturday will speak volumes about their mental toughness. Many of the players have friends and family who have been directly impacted by hurricane Michael. They’re stretched thin, emotionally and physically after four straight wins. And after Saturday, they get a week off before facing the #2 ranked Georgia Bulldogs.
Florida will truly make a statement about their character as a team if they can shake off all of the outlying factors and perform to the Gator Standard in an 11 a.m. (noon EST) kickoff in Nashville. If they can continue their weekly improvement, they will handle the Commodores easily.
At a glance:
2018 record: 3-3 (0-2)
Head coach: Derek Mason
After starting the season with 8 sacks and 6 takeaways in their first two games, the ‘Dores defense has recorded just 2 sacks and 3 takeaways in the four games since. Defensive linemen Dare and Dayo Odeyingbo will be looking to change that trend against the Gators. They will also need big performances from linebacker Josh Smith and cornerback Joejuan Williams if they want to keep it close.
This Commodores defense just hasn’t been up to snuff since their week three loss to Notre Dame. In the last three games, Vandy has allowed 105 points to the opposition a trend that won’t be easy to reverse this weekend. Florida is averaging 34 points per game right now and has scored upwards of 40 in three games this season.
The Gators rushing attack should find success in attacking the middle of the defensive line as they’ve been susceptible to leaving the interior open so far this season. If the running backs begin to roll, QB Feleipe Franks will have plenty of chances to hit the edge routes as well as beating Vandy over the top with the deep ball.
Todd Grantham‘s defense will be charged with stopping Vanderbilt running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who is averaging 6.8 YPC. One of the ways Florida can shut him down will be getting an early lead and forcing Vandy to play from behind. This is a very achievable goal as the Commodores haven’t scored a first quarter touchdown since they faced MTSU in week one.
Apart from putting an embargo on the Vanderbilt running game, the Gators defense will need to keep constant pressure on the league’s most veteran quarterback in Kyle Shurmur. Shurmur likes to find Kalija Lipscomb, the league’s reception leader, as often as possible.
Don’t expect Shurmur and Lipscomb to run wild against the Gators, though. Florida leads the SEC in both sacks and pass defense. Shurmur will be pressured all day from all angles and every throw will be challenged by Florida’s talented secondary.
The Gators have a decidedly large advantage in the defensive matchup. Don’t be surprised to see them take the game over from a Vandy team that has held the lead for a total of 15 seconds on the gameclock in three losses to Notre Dame, South Carolina, and Georgia.
With all of the discussion about a potential trap game, there is no doubt that Mullen has stressed the importance of giving relentless effort and being prepared for what should be an easy win. The Gators are currently 7 point favorites over the Commodores according to the betting line. If they play to their standard, the margin will be much greater than that.