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Sunday, November 28, 2021

Gators take care of business, still have loose ends to tie up

Florida beat up on inferior Vanderbilt Saturday but now looks to Georgia and LSU

Florida quarterback Emory Jones prepares for a play against Vanderbilt during Saturday's 42-0 victory.
Florida quarterback Emory Jones prepares for a play against Vanderbilt during Saturday's 42-0 victory.

The Florida Gators tallied 479 total yards, and quarterback Emory Jones tossed a career-high 273 yards and four touchdowns to help UF blank the Vanderbilt Commodores 42-0 Oct. 9.

In other words, Florida accomplished what it was expected to do: cover a 39-point spread against the bottom-feeders of the SEC.

As UF enters its toughest back-to-back set of games on the schedule, what does a beatdown of college football’s version of the Bad News Bears prove?

Florida showed one big positive it needs to take from Vandy into Death Valley and Jacksonville: Head coach Dan Mullen opened up the offense against the lowly Commodores, allowing Jones to throw the ball downfield. The quarterback averaged 12.4 yards per attempt, a vast improvement from the season average of 6.45 yards per attempt and completed five passes over 25 yards — including a 61-yard touchdown — after not completing one such throw against Kentucky last week.

It was far from a perfect game for the Gators, though, as they looked like two different teams from the first half to the second. UF barely outgained the Commodores in yards at halftime (215-200), and good ol’ Vandy missed three field goals and had a drive stall at the 1-yard line. This game could have been much closer.

The first 30 minutes looked sloppy, as the Commodores reached Florida territory four times in a row, converted five of 11 third-down attempts and held the ball for almost twice as long as Florida in the first half (19:50 to 10:10). 

For comparison, in its 62-0 loss to the Bulldogs last month, Vanderbilt crossed Georgia’s side of the field three times, converted two third downs and gained 77 yards the entire game.

Florida’s offense didn’t look its best early. It scored quickly on its opening two possessions and added one more score before the half to lead 21-0 heading into the locker room. All good, right? 

Not so fast, my friend. The Gators turned the ball over twice, and their 215 total offensive yards in the first half were the least Vanderbilt allowed in a first half against a Football Bowl Subdivision opponent this season. The second least? Last week against Connecticut, when the Commodores allowed 222.

“There's things that I can circle in the first half that were great, and there's things that I can circle in the first half that were just not up to our standards,” Mullen said. “Our job as coaches is to make sure we are at our standard on every snap.”

Florida rallied to score three touchdowns in the first seven minutes of the second half, effectively ending the game in the third quarter. The defense shored up, allowing 87 yards, and Vandy crossed midfield just twice and converted three of nine third-down attempts in the closing two quarters.

The Gators can’t expect to start slowly and still find success the next few weeks against LSU and Georgia. The Bulldogs, specifically, boast the nation’s top defense, allowing just two offensive touchdowns all season and 5.5 points per game. Offensively, UGA outscored its last three opponents — Vanderbilt, No. 17 Arkansas and Auburn — 133-10. 

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While the 2021 edition of LSU might not play like the 2019 version, the Tigers still average 29.7 points and 379.5 yards per game on offense this year — much better than Vandy’s marks of 13.3 points and 310.7 yards per game. 

Tiger Stadium also ranks as a notoriously hostile environment. Florida committed 15 penalties for 115 yards in its first true road game of the year last week in Lexington, Kentucky. The Gators managed to cut that number in half against the Commodores, committing eight penalties for 80 yards, but neither number will get the job done against upper-SEC talents. 

“That's going to be on me to make sure we’re disciplined and we're not getting penalties called on us when we're playing at a higher level,” Mullen said.

Credit to Florida for doing its job this week, but the team needs to prove results like this one are the rule over the next few games rather than the exception.

Contact Michael Hull at mhull@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_Hull33.

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Michael Hull

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.


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