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Tuesday, November 28, 2023

By now, the Gators should have learned there are no easy victories in the Southeastern Conference, but they will still get their yearly reminder of that Saturday.

While Vanderbilt (5-3, 2-3 SEC) is traditionally supposed to be the conference?s bottom-feeder, UF (5-3, 3-3 SEC) has struggled against the Commodores recently.

And this may be the best Vanderbilt team yet.

The Commodores, who haven?t been to a bowl game since 1982, are just one win away from being bowl eligible.

And at 5-3, they enter Saturday?s game with the same overall record as the Gators and are just a half game behind UF in conference play.

BThey have some athletes out there that make plays, and they?re coached well,C UF wide receiver Andre Caldwell said. BThey?re a challenge to any team they face.C

Last season, the Gators needed to recover an onside kick to ensure a 6-point victory against the Commodores.

In 2004, UF trailed Vanderbilt at halftime before rallying in the second half.

But the Gators? biggest scare came in 2005, the last time the Commodores visited The Swamp and UF coach Urban Meyer?s first game against Vanderbilt.

After squandering a 14-point lead with less than three minutes remaining, the Gators needed double overtime to pull off a 49-42 victory.

BWhenever they play us, they come ready to play,C Caldwell said. BThey strap it up and get ready for us. We have to be more ready and prepared than them this week to win this game.C

Meyer said Vanderbilt?s improvement comes as a result of Coach Bobby Johnson?s ability to build a consistent program over time.

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BPrograms develop and recruit, we?re not a program,C Meyer said. BWe?re three years into it, and we?ve still got to get some continuity in the recruiting and continuity in the development. And that?s why I think, you look at a Vanderbilt, you look at teams that have had that consistency, that?s what everyone is looking for.C

Vanderbilt may use two quarterbacks against the Gators, Mackenzi Adams and Chris Nickson.

Nickson played well against the Gators last year, but Adams took the starting job from Nickson earlier this season.

Both players suffered injuries last week against Miami (Ohio), but both are expected to be ready for Saturday.

Meanwhile, the Gators will have to fend off a tough Vanderbilt pass rush with an injured quarterback of their own.

Tim Tebow?s bruised right shoulder is feeling better, Meyer said, but the injury still could continue to restrict Tebow from running as much as UF would like.

Facing a team that loves to blitz, protecting Tebow could be a key for the Gators, particularly after allowing six sacks last week against Georgia.

BHow Tim handles [the pressure] is going to be about how the offensive line handles it and how the receivers get open,C Meyer said. B[Vanderbilt?s] personnel is SEC-caliber personnel, especially their defense. I think their defensive personnel is really good.C

Despite the Commodores? improvement this season, a loss to Vanderbilt would still be embarrassing for a Gators team that still has hopes of an SEC title.

BI think they still fit in that category where we say we shouldn?t lose to them,C Caldwell said. BWe have the better talent, better athletes and we are more confident, so they are still in that category for us.C

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