This year's game was a completely ugly affair to watch as Florida's offense was nonexistent the entire game. After a Kelvin Taylor rushing touchdown in the first quarter, the UF offense shut down and gained just 258 total yards.
The running game was dismal as Kelvin ran for a total of 47 yards on 17 attempts and the only Gator touchdown in the game. Florida's next leading rusher was quarterback Treon Harris, who ran eight times for 34 yards and fumbled once.
From a passing perspective, I was not at all happy with Harris. It was constant rolling out and throwing the ball out of bounds. I wish Harris would just stay in the pocket, make his reads, and then throw the ball. I know that is not possible, however, because Treon is 5'11.
Since Treon is so small, he cannot see over his offensive linemen and he HAS to roll out or he will not be able to read the defense and find his receivers. Part of it may be to utilize his legs, but I honestly feel that aspect of his game is overhyped as Vanderbilt did a fine job containing him today.
When he did pass, the results were mediocre as Treon completed 12 of his 24 passes for 158 yards, no touchdowns, and one interception. I try not to miss Will Grier when I watch the Gators, but it is hard not to considering how much of a drop off Treon is compared to him.
Moving on to the receiving core, Demarcus Robinson out-shined everyone with his nine catches for 106 yards. However, his loose ball carrying finally caught up to him as he fumbled mid-fourth quarter to kill what had been the Gators' best drive of the second half thus far. Besides Robinson, only four other Gators caught a pass.
Since the offense was completely out of whack, today's unlikely hero actually ended up being Austin Hardin. After walk-on kicker Neil Macinnes missed an extra point attempt (his first ever collegiate kick), Austin Hardin was called upon to kick a 43 yarder with 2:22 left in the game and the Gators down 7-6.
As he was gearing up to kick, I took a soft football and kicked it for the heck of it (I watched the game from my apartment as I had been sick all week). Weirdly enough, I nailed it right between the two chairs we had at our bar. I saw this as an omen, and sure enough it was. Hardin's kick went right down the middle and would prove to be the game winner.
I could not be happier for Hardin! Even though he drove me absolutely CRAZY with all his misses earlier in the season, he cleaned the slate with his first made field goal since September 12th. I hope this gives Hardin the confidence boost he needs to make every field goal for the rest of the season.
Of course, I cannot talk about special teams and not mention Johnny Townsend. It was another great outing for the punter as he kicked five times for 222 yards. He averaged 44.4 yards per punt and pinned Vandy inside their own 20-yard line three times. His longest punt was 56 yards. Townsend even attempted a pass when he connected with Cece Jefferson (who is a defensive lineman) for seven yards on a fake field goal attempt in the second quarter.
Now onto the unit who kept Florida in this game the entire way: the defense. The Florida defense was outstanding today! They allowed just 175 total yards with the only Vandy touchdown coming on Ralph Webb's freak 74-yard run at the end of the first half. Take out Webb's run, and Vandy has a little more than 100 total yards in the game!
Vandy quarterback Johnny McCrary attempted just 14 passes and completed three of them for 30 yards! Vandy was content to nurse a 7-6 lead and play conservative, which allowed the Gator defense to feast. McCrary was sacked five times and hurried five times. The perpetrators of the five sacks were: Bryan Cox Jr. (1.0), Jonathan Bullard (0.5), Alex McCalister (2.5), and Jalen Tabor (1.0).
Cox was also the Gators leading tackler with nine on the day (1.5 for loss). Behind him was Antonio Morrison with seven (one for loss), Jarrad Davis with six (0.5 for loss), Jonathan Bullard with five (2.5 for loss), and Keanu Neal and Alex McCalister with four a piece (3.5 for loss for McCalister). The Gator secondary did not have much to do with Vandy's limited passing, but still was able to break up four passes in the contest.
What sticks out to me the most defensively was Vanderbilt's final drive after going down 9-7. In my opinion, the refs tried to give Vandy this game as they called Florida for defensive holding on fourth down and 10. Then, after a sack on second down and 10, they ejected defensive lineman Jordan Sherit for targeting when he was simply making a hit on a quarterback!
It was one of the most outrageous calls I had ever seen! What was Sherit supposed to do? He simply did his job and made the hit. I can promise you that when he is rushing to get past the offensive linemen, Sherit is not thinking about the proper way to hit the quarterback. His goal is to take the QB down and do it any legal way possible. His hit on McCrary was not at all malicious and it was definitely legal. What made it even worse was that Vandy got an automatic first down and 15 yards.
Fortunately, the Gator defense picked up its disqualified teammate. On fourth down and 25, they thrashed Vanderbilt's upset bid when Brian Poole wrapped up Sam Dobbs four yards short of the first down.
For the first time since 2009, the Florida Gators are back in the SEC Championship! Securing the SEC East was not pretty, but a win is a win. There are many reasons as to why the Gators could have come out so flat. Here are my thoughts on to what it could have been:
- The win over Georgia, which could have led to Vandy not being taken too seriously
- The festivities and distractions that come with Homecoming
- Game time being at noon, the Gators have not played in a noon game all year
- Looking ahead to celebrating an SEC East title before putting in the work to clinch it
- Treon Harris is not a good QB and the offense does not respond as effectively to him.
That last one was in jest, but the four before are legitimate points.
I expect the Gators to move up from #10 in the polls despite the ugly win since #2 LSU, #7 Michigan State, and #8 TCU all lost today. At best I see Florida landing at #7. Looking ahead now with the SEC East wrapped up and a National Championship still in reach, the #10 Florida Gators (8-1, 6-1 in SEC play) will focus on a road matchup at South Carolina (3-6, 1-6 in SEC play).
I cannot help but be nervous considering the Gators have not been the best on the road and will be playing in a second straight noon game. However, I do find peace knowing that Coach Mac will get his team prepared and they will take care of business in their final SEC game. Similar to today, the South Carolina game will be available to watch on ESPN.
As for Vandy (3-6, 1-4 in SEC play), this loss will sting for a bit as they were unable to duplicate their Homecoming upset from two years ago. They will return to Nashville to face Kentucky (4-5, 2-5 in SEC play) as they seek to win out and potentially reach a bowl game. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. and the game can be seen on the SEC Network.
*All stats accredited to Gatorzone.com
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