For the first time since 2012, Florida shut out an SEC team (Kentucky, 38-0).
The Gators had a balanced attack offensively, and they easily played their best defensive football of the season, leading to some grades to take pride in.
Boy, it was a rough start to the game for quarterback Kyle Trask and the UF offense.
The Gators started with a turnover on downs, and then Trask squandered an early opportunity for points on the next drive, throwing an interception on third-and-10 from the Vanderbilt 27.
However, Florida started moving the ball by diversifying touches to playmakers like Kadarius Toney, Freddie Swain and Kyle Pitts, and it scored two touchdowns before halftime. Trask completed passes to 10 different receivers in the first half alone, and his best play over that period came on an improvised fourth-down pass to Lamical Perine.
Center Nick Buchanan stepped on the quarterback’s foot, causing a designed toss play to break down. But Trask kept his balance, and despite a charging Vanderbilt defender, he flipped the ball (using almost a jump shot motion) to his tailback, who jaunted into the end zone.
More bad decision-making by Trask at the end of the half led to another interception deep in Vanderbilt territory.
Trask found consistency in the second half though, tossing two touchdowns in the third quarter and accumulating a career-high 363 yards.
However, it was backup quarterback Emory Jones whose involvement stuck out late in the game. Jones scored UF’s final three touchdowns, all of which came on the ground. Combine those with a rushing touchdown for Trask, and it was an encouraging performance for the offensive line, which has struggled all season creating holes for runners.
There’s no better feeling for a defense than what comes with securing a shutout.
The Gators and defensive coordinator Todd Grantham had to be ecstatic about stuffing the Commodores for just 128 total yards (18 in the first half).
Vanderbilt’s best player, running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn, gave Florida fits last year in Nashville before leaving the game with an injury, but he mustered just 28 yards on 15 carries on Saturday.
The Florida defense stacked the box, daring first-time starter Deuce Wallace to pass. And when the redshirt junior attempted to attack through the air, he managed only 60 yards and an interception on 7 of 18 passing.
The Gators were also strong on third down, an area in which they struggled last week against Georgia. They held the Commodores to just three conversions on 15 attempts and limited them to an average distance of 7.8 yards on the critical down.
The lack of production resulted in six three-and-outs, and Vandy turned the ball over three times, which turned into 21 Florida points.
By far the most outstanding defensive player for Florida was Mohamoud Diabate, who was asked to help fill the pass-rushing void left by the injured Jabari Zuniga. The freshman sacked the Commodores’ quarterback three times and sparked UF’s best defensive play.
Diabate nailed Wallace on his blind side, forcing a fumble which was picked up by fellow pass rusher Jon Greenard and taken 80 yards for a touchdown.
An A+ is the only reasonable grade for Diabate and the defense’s performance.
Special Teams: C-
As dominant as Florida was against the Commodores, it was below average on special teams.
The issues were small, yet obvious and fixable, and they started in the first quarter.
The first was when punt returner Freddie Swain allowed a punt to drop just outside his own 10. It’s a rule of thumb. Stand on the 10, and if the football travels behind you, let it go. However, if the ball is right at the 10 or close, catch it. Do not let it bounce to set up field position inside your own five.
Swain allowed the ball to bounce, and Vandy downed it at the six (but a penalty brought the ball to the 11).
Swain had one nice punt return too, but it was called back due to holding by Trey Dean.
Kickoff coverage was a little shaky as returner Ja’Veon Marlow had a nice 31-yard return. But the Gators corrected that later in the game, as players did a good job staying in their lanes on kickoffs in the second half. Yet, Evan McPherson needs to kick more touchbacks. There were far too many returnable kickoffs.
But it was good to see backup kicker Chris Howard knock an extra point through. He hit his third of the year, and it’s always healthy to give the backup some reps in garbage time.
Any time a 56-0 win is recorded, it’s a direct result of good coaching.
Florida did a lot of things differently against Vanderbilt than it did against Georgia, and it obviously yielded much more positive results.
The Gators were aggressive with blitzes on third down and trusted its corners to play tight man coverage. On offense, they spread the ball to playmakers like Toney, Jones and Dameon Pierce. They also ran more short passing plays with their running backs, using the short game as a dependable alternative to running the football.
There were bad decisions too, and one in particular paralleled a questionable call from the UGA game.
Fourth-and-1. Ball on the UF 44.
All Florida needs is one yard, but it also has an opportunity to punt the ball away and pin its opponent deep in its own territory.
The running game struggled all season, but against Vanderbilt (unlike Georgia), you have the superior talent despite a shaky offensive line. Yet, Dan Mullen decides to get cute with a pass to the running back (just as he did against UGA), and the decision didn’t pay off. Again.
Mullen needs to show confidence in his line or win the field-position battle. Part of improving a struggling unit is putting your trust in them. The Gators trusted the line in goal line situations with the contest already out of reach, but show some trust when it matters.
A positive coaching decision came at the end of the first half after Wallace took a knee at his one yard line to run out the clock. Recognizing this, Mullen called a timeout, forcing Vandy to run another play and risk a safety rather than head to the locker room.
Instances like that shows how sharp Mullen is. Even though it didn’t yield a result for Florida, it was still a worthwhile attempt. That was one of the best on-the-fly coaching decisions Mullen made all season.