For the umpteenth time, Florida played a sloppy game off an 11 a.m. local kick in Nashville. I’ve repeatedly total people, “This team is weird” and Saturday definitely showed it. Plenty of evaluations to be made.
This is one of those games where in a vacuum you read the box score and think “Wow, what a great game for the Florida offense.” But when your offense is one of the country’s most prolific, and it put up 63 one week prior, just 38 points against one of the worst defenses in the SEC seems to be an underperformance. It somehow made Kyle Trask’s 383 and three scores look pedestrian! The unit just performed unlike how it did in the games leading up to Vandy.
But here’s the thing: the Florida offense got points on all but five drives, with two of those five coming at the end of the first half and game. That’s not bad by a longshot! But there were things like two straight punts after tying the game 7-7 and the Kadarius Toney fumble when the Gators seemed poised to score their third straight touchdown of the second half. Plus, multiple drops by Jacob Copeland. Not to mention some inconsistency from the right side of the offensive line and a few penalties putting Florida in bad spots offensively. But that doesn’t take away from the good things like the strength of the line’s left side, that great catch by Grimes and the effort of receivers like Kemore Gamble and Justin Shorter getting more involved in the offense. Despite his drops, Copeland still finished with five catches for 56 yards. All of these other players getting involved in the offense shows just how deep the Florida attack is and makes it all the more dangerous.
A definite show of regression from Todd Grantham’s side of the ball but it wasn’t like the defense consistently played like the best in America every week. But, just like the offense, it suffered ups and downs. The first drive of the game Vanderbilt went right down the field to score. It was the fifth opening drive touchdown allowed by Florida in seven games. And you can see right before the scoring play the entire right side of the secondary isn’t able to get aligned properly. Florida then allowed a 68-yard drive for a field goal on Vandy’s next possession. After allowing two straight extended drives for points, the Gator defense forced five straight punts until Vanderbilt had the ball with 2:55 left in the third quarter. There we saw another defensive lapse with Chris Pierce weaving through the Florida secondary and shaking off tackles for a 53-yard score. It was the same issues showing up: missed tackles, guys out of position and seemingly utter confusion before the snap.
However, like I said people, ups and downs on defense. Florida got great pressure including two great plays at the end of the game. Specifically, Vanderbilt’s second-to-last drive. On 2nd-and-8, Jaydon Hill times up a cat blitz freezing Ken Seals while Khris Bogle and Gervon Dexter got home for an 11-yard sack. Unfortunately, Florida couldn’t capitalize and gave up the first down two plays later. Although, later in the drive, Tyron Hopper broke through out of the linebacker spot to force a tipped pass, an offensive lineman reception and a massive loss from which Vandy couldn’t recover. Let’s also not forget the game-sealing interception by Kaiir Elam. A big turnover at a crucial moment in the game will always be a plus.
Special Teams: B
Once again a microscopic sample size for special teams this week but they seemed to perform well. Evan McPherson made his lone field goal and every PAT. Jacob Finn only punted twice both were great in flipping the field. His first punt was a 49-yarder with a great bounce near the 20 yard line allowing the gunner to down the kick at the 10. His second resulted in a fair catch and essentially made Vanderbilt start from the 25 but was only 40 yards.
Kadarius Toney saw a few return opportunities. He only had one punt return for seven yards but totaled 74 yards on his three kickoff returns. He did have a good return in the second half that was unfortunately nullified due to a holding call. Holding calls and blocks in the back are definitely killers on special teams especially if the unit gets a great return.
Since the Georgia game, everything Florida does will be viewed through the filter of “Is this good enough to beat Alabama?” Most people would say “Yes” to the offense and “No” to the defense. Overall? A total coin flip as to who Gator fans would pick. If looking at this effort specifically? I’d say probably not. Even Mullen wasn’t overly impressed with his team’s performance.
Like Mullen, Florida fans don’t want to just get to Atlanta. They want to win there. Obviously Florida needs two more wins to officially make it there. But, what’s the point of having a great offense if the team overall can’t play well enough to beat the big boys? The Gators have two more opportunities to show the defense can turn a corner and the offense can stay the course.