The Florida Gators football team returns to The Swamp Saturday for a homecoming matchup at noon against Vanderbilt after a disheartening defeat to Kentucky last weekend, UF’s second loss in three games.
How does head coach Dan Mullen and his team respond after their postseason dreams likely vanished into thin air?
Ryan: Florida needs a rebound. I don’t think anyone expected that this early in the season (we’re still three weeks from Georgia) or after nearly toppling No. 1 Alabama to open conference play, but at the end of the day, the Gators dropped two of their past three games. Mullen’s vaunted rushing attack stalled for 171 yards against the Wildcats, easily the paltriest effort of 2021.
Lucky for the orange and blue faithful, however, Florida returns to the greener grass of its own backyard. The miscommunication issues of yesterweek should be a thing of the past with a supportive crowd.
Also, the Gators play Vanderbilt. The Commodores are — how do I say this kindly — bad. Vandy is 2-3 for the year, and its last SEC win came on Oct. 19, 2019 (720 days ago, for readers who enjoy math).
With first-year coach Clark Lea at the helm, the nerds of Nashville can see hope on the horizon, but 2021 won’t be their year. Unfortunately, a Florida team who needs some tangible confidence won’t pity them. Mullen and Jones both have something to prove, and Vanderbilt would be the team to experiment with. Expect more deep shots and chunk plays, and maybe a little more of backup quarterback Anthony Richardson, as the Gators take out their frustrations on the Commodores.
Florida 54, Vanderbilt 13.
Zachary: Now that the carrot of the College Football Playoff and winning an SEC Championship seems impossible for Florida to chase, it’ll be interesting to see how the Gators play versus Vanderbilt. The Gators won’t suffer back-to-back losses this weekend, but how they come out Saturday will serve as a precursor for what to expect the rest of the way.
Mullen shouldered most of the blame for the loss to the Wildcats due to 15 penalties, eight of them false starts, and a conservative game plan where quarterback Emory Jones only attempted one pass (incomplete) of over 20 yards in the air. Look for the offense to come out guns blazing and for Jones to take several shots downfield.
My colleague, Ryan, highlighted Florida’s first-half woes the last two seasons, and they don’t appear ready to go anywhere anytime soon. I believe the Gators struggle in the first half due to turnovers on offense or missed defensive assignments. They’ll likely cling to a one-possession lead and then explode in the second half.
No 50 burger for the offense, but Florida wins 42-14.
Michael: Plain and simple, the Gators need to dominate Saturday. After the loss to Kentucky last week, Florida needs to come out strong against the weaker opponent in Vandy. Florida is 39-point favorites this weekend: It needs to cover that and then some, in my opinion. The fan base is reeling, and the team needs a strong showing to regain some confidence before a tough couple of games at LSU and against Georgia.
Vanderbilt averages 16 points and 315 yards per game this season. In comparison, Florida averages 31 points per game and 509 yards against better competition. This game should not be a contest.
It’ll be interesting to watch how Jones and the offense rebounds after stagnating against the Wildcats. Despite what Mullen says, the Gators scored just 13 points and had eight false start penalties: They simply looked sloppy on that side of the ball. If there was ever a get-right game for the offense, it’s Vandy. The Commodores have allowed over 200 yards per game on the ground so far this season, including 192 against the Connecticut Huskies. No offense to UConn, but UF’s combo of Jones, Anthony Richardson and its stable of running backs is just a bit more talented than that of the Huskies. The Gators should be able to run up and down the field all afternoon.
The Vanderbilt offense has been just as anemic as its defense — it’s averaging 120 rushing yards per game and less than 200 yards through the air. UGA blanked Vandy 62-0 when the two teams met in Week 4. Now, Florida’s defense isn’t close as talented as Georgia’s, but the Gators still need to shut down the Commodores to have any sort of confidence going forward.
Florida will win this game, I don’t think that’s really a question. The main concern for Gators fans is how their team wins. It’ll say a lot about UF if it doesn’t simply outclass Vandy Saturday. I don’t think the Gators cover the massive spread, but I do think they do enough to have this game handled by halftime: 45-9 Florida.
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Michael Hull is a third-year journalism major with a specialization in sports & media. He has a minor in business and leadership and is a struggling Jacksonville Jaguars fan.
Ryan Haley is a second-year journalism major with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.