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Sunday, December 03, 2023

No. 20 Florida rediscovers big plays in Vanderbilt beatdown

The Gators attack down field and benefit from Vanderbilt kicking collapse in 42-point win

Florida's Jacob Copeland fights off several Vanderbilt defenders during the Gators' 42-0 win on Oct. 9.
Florida's Jacob Copeland fights off several Vanderbilt defenders during the Gators' 42-0 win on Oct. 9.

Florida head coach Dan Mullen heard the same questions after the Gators’ upset loss to Kentucky, when the Gators only converted a single play for more than 20 yards. 

Why didn’t you throw downfield? What was the game plan? Where were the big plays?

After one question too many about starting quarterback Emory Jones not taking shots, Mullen’s annoyance showed.

“I trust (Emory) throwing the ball deep downfield,” the coach stated earlier in the week with no further elaboration.

No. 20 Florida’s gameplan reflected Mullen’s confidence Saturday, as the Gators rediscovered their downfield offense in Gainesville during a 42-0 demolition of Vanderbilt for their second conference win of the season.

On the fifth play of Florida’s first drive, Jones lofted a lazy deep ball to wide receiver Trent Whittemore for a 32-yard gain. Two plays later, running back Nay’Quan Wright found a canal straight through the geographic center of his offensive line. 

“Every time I see green grass, I just think ‘Touchdown,’” Wright said after the game. 

The redshirt sophomore shot through the gap, planted his foot, and turned the corner for a 34-yard run initially ruled a touchdown before further review deemed him half a yard short. Florida found the end zone on the following play.

Wright exploded for a career afternoon. He snuck behind the Commodores defense for a 51-yard catch and run late in the second quarter, and he ended the game with 103 yards from scrimmage on nine touches, his first career 100-yard performance.

The Gators found the end zone on their first two drives, and again for a third time shortly after Wright’s long reception, to take a 21-0 lead into the locker room. For Vanderbilt, however, to quote the author H. Jackson Brown, “nothing is more expensive than a missed opportunity.”

The Commodores placekicker, Joseph Bulovas, failed to find the uprights twice in the first two quarters. Near the end of the first frame, his 39-yard effort found the left upright, and in the following quarter he whiffed from 41 yards. The fifth-year missed a 33-yarder in the third quarter.

In the final minute before halftime, Commodores quarterback Ken Seals found receiver Chris Pierce Jr. on fourth and goal for what was initially ruled a touchdown, but the play was overturned upon review. Instead of 13 first-half points, the Commodores faced a three-touchdown mountain to summit in the closing quarters.

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When the bell sounded to resume play, the UF offense again attacked beyond the chains. After what seemed like an early three-and-out, Australian punter Jeremy Crawshaw faked a punt and found the sideline for 28 yards to extend the drive.

Four plays later, faced with second and 26 after a pair of penalties, Jones locked eyes with running back Dameon Pierce over the middle of the field and snuck a pass into the senior’s chest. Pierce took over from there, and 61 yards later, Florida led 28-0. Pierce tallied three total touchdowns for the day, including a pair of 1-yard runs.

The next time Florida took possession, redshirt junior Jacob Copeland threw his hat into the ring. Jones found the receiver down the middle of the field on UF’s first play of the drive, and Copeland hauled in a contested catch over a safety for 47 yards. Florida went back to the Copeland well with a screen pass on the next play, and he evaded one defender and carried two more with him into the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown to make the lead 35-0.

The final play became Jones’ fourth passing touchdown of the afternoon, the first time he’s thrown more than two in a single game. The redshirt junior finished with 14 completions on 22 attempts, a career-high 273 yards and an interception on a tipped pass.

“The defense determines where the passing game goes,” Mullen said. “The coverages they played today led to us, to take some more deep shots today.”

An interception from safety Trey Dean and Pierce’s third trip to pay dirt added insult to injury, and the trio of third-quarter touchdowns gave Florida the final 42-point margin.

Florida, now 4-2 and 2-2 in conference play, travels west to play the Louisiana State Tigers next Saturday at noon, its final tune-up before a date with Georgia.

Contact Ryan Haley at Follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley.

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Ryan Haley

Ryan Haley, a UF journalism senior with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida, is Summer 2022's Engagement Managing Editor. 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.

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