Yes, the Gators won the game. And yes, the box score looks good.
You can’t be happier with the defense. Getting a shutout in a conference matchup is always tough, and quarterback Kyle Trask looked good again with four total touchdowns (one rushing) and 363 yards. Great numbers in a confidence-building game after the struggles in a devastating loss to Georgia in Jacksonville.
But a scoreless first quarter signified a huge indictment of this offense that negative has remained with this offense this season: starting slow.
The Florida offense struggled to punch the ball into the end zone in the first quarter against a lackluster Vanderbilt defense that didn’t have a senior in the starting lineup. Trask also threw a lousy interception deep in Vandy territory to a Commodore secondary that had just three before the game, good for last in the SEC.
The result was just a 14-point lead over a Vanderbilt team that mustered 18 total yards heading into the intermission.
“It’s just frustrating,” coach Dan Mullen said after the game. “You’re up 14-nothing, and you feel like, ‘Hey, we’ve kind of dominated this game, and it’s 14-nothing’... It’s like, ‘We’re in complete control of this game’, but hey you’re a score away or mistake away from this being a tight game.”
UF has had a good season and looks to be on pace for its second 10-win season 10 wins for the second season in a row. It’s hard to find much to complain about. But the slow starts have held the team back the team from taking that next step.
This season, the Gators offense averages 13 points in the first half. For comparison: Ohio State, ranked No. 1 in the College Football Playoff Rankings, has averaged 31.4 points in the first half this season, including a 42-0 explosion in the first half against Maryland on Saturday. That’s what Florida will need to do if it wants to be elite.
Luckily the offense has been able to overcome those uninspired starts later in the game for the most part. The Gators are outscoring opponents 113-29 in the fourth quarter this year and again came out of the intermission looking like a different team.
In its first three plays of the third quarter, Florida scored twice to match its first-half 14-point total.
Even with the early game struggles, Florida is still expected to win out in its remaining games at Missouri and home against Florida State. But with two losses, Florida no longer controls its own destiny and needs Georgia to lose twice in order to represent the East in the SEC Championship in Atlanta.
Whether it happens or not, Florida needs to come out early in games more prepared like other elite teams if it hopes to be a contender for a long time.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at [email protected]