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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Slim SEC title hopes alive after Vandy blowout

Welcome back, Gators.

UF summoned its early-season dominating attack, an offense-defense combination not seen in more than a month, in its return to The Swamp for Homecoming.

An offense led by Percy Harvin wowed, and a stout defense playing with a three-loss chip on its shoulder held up as the Gators cruised to a 49-22 win against Vanderbilt on Saturday.

After a dizzying October, November started off in typical UF fashion.

"It hasn't been a perfect year," Coach Urban Meyer said. "Obviously, there's been a bunch of bumps in the road, but to see a team come out like that after we've had a tough month, come back in The Swamp after 35 days and play with that energy level and confidence level and stick together as a team, I was very proud of them."

The win, No. 17 in a row over Vanderbilt, keeps the Gators alive in the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division hunt.

No. 17 UF (6-3, 4-3 SEC) must win at South Carolina on Saturday and needs Georgia and Tennessee to lose another conference game to make it back to Atlanta.

UF had to take care of business at home before thinking about anything else.

Harvin did the most work.

The sophomore tallied 189 total yards by halftime and finished with 113 on the ground and 110 through the air to become the first player in school history with 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in one game.

For the first time this season, the Gators wore all-blue uniforms, an idea thought up by the seniors as a way to energize a team that looked lifeless after a loss to Georgia last week.

"We kind of threw the kitchen sink at this team, everything possible to get this team motivated," Meyer said.

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UF also surprisingly deferred after winning the coin toss, a move spurred by the team's defensive coaches, who were eager to make up for a dreadful effort in giving up 42 points to the Bulldogs.

The defense did its job by holding Vanderbilt to 32 yards on its first three series, all of which ended in punts.

The offense held up its end too, scoring on its first two drives and five times total in the first half to take a daunting 35-7 lead into the break.

"They just took it to us today," Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson said. "They whipped us."

Quarterback Tim Tebow scored four of his five touchdowns in the first half and looked like a confident pocket passer.

He completed 22-of-27 passes for 281 yards and three scores while running just six times for 35 yards and two touchdowns as a bruised non-throwing shoulder kept him immobile.

"We're still a little conservative on it," Tebow said of running less with the injury to the shoulder, which required a pre-game cortisone shot for the second straight week. "But, it's getting better, and it should be even better next week."

Tebow got help from receivers Harvin and Andre Caldwell (103 receiving yards) and a re-energized defense that gave up just 255 yards.

"I know Gator Nation was waiting for that," Meyer said. "The head coach was waiting for that and everyone else. That was an excellent defense."

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