Vanderbilt senior running back Ralph Webb has always found a way to save his best performances for Florida.
Last season, Webb rushed for 110 yards on 26 carries in Vanderbilt’s 13-6 loss to the Gators. Two years ago, in his last appearance at The Swamp, Webb rushed for 118 yards on 22 carries, including a 74-yard touchdown run in a 9-7 loss.
“He’s run all over us for two years,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said.
Stopping Webb, a former Gainesville High star, will be a priority when the Gators host Vanderbilt on Saturday at The Swamp. Certainly, the 5-foot-10, 202-pound Webb has motivation each time he plays the Gators. Despite being a first-team All-State high school standout while playing in UF’s backyard, Webb wasn’t offered a scholarship by UF. The reason? Webb didn’t fit certain size and speed criteria for a running back set by prior UF coach Will Muschamp.
“He’s like, been, a Gator killer the two years I’ve been here,” McElwain said. “Whether he plays with a little extra chip, I know what it’s like when you go home, to a place, a university, where maybe you grew up watching and didn’t play there.
“So, for us, we have to tackle the guy. Maybe he gets that pregame dinner or something at home that gives him the extra go, but we’re not the only guys that haven’t tackled him. This guy has put it on film.”
A three-year starter, Webb passed Zac Stacy as Vanderbilt’s all-time leading rusher during his junior season and entered this season with 3,342 career rushing yards. But Webb is off to a slow start this season, having rushed for 169 yards in four games with two TDs.
Webb chose not to speak to reporters this week with Vanderbilt coming off a 59-0 loss to Alabama. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said some of the struggles in the run game have come as the result of a young offensive line that features two new starters and no seniors.
“With that, running backs and lineman go hand and hand,” Mason said. “It’s about accountability all the way around. I think the backs are running decent, not necessarily hard all the time. We’ve put a couple of balls on the ground. We’ve got to make sure we’re all straining to the finish.”
Asked if Webb plays with more of an edge against Florida, Mason responded: “If all Ralph Webb is doing is getting up for the Florida game, I mean, that doesn’t speak much for Ralph Webb. I don’t believe that’s the case. I believe it’s been tough sledding this year. The Florida Gators aren’t going to make it any easier. We’ll be heading to Gainesville. It is where he went to school, he’s going to be in front of family and friends. He knows it’s about going out there, looking to do the job.”
Florida has had issues with missed tackles throughout the first three games of the 2017 season. But the Gators were better against the run last week against Kentucky, limiting the Wildcats to 120 rushing yards on 3.8 yards per carry.
Florida sophomore linebacker David Reese said it’s going to be a challenge to stop Webb and the rest of Vanderbilt’s offense.
“He’s been one of the best backs in the SEC,” Reese said. “He’s an elusive guy, he’s quick. Vanderbilt has a good o-line that helps them spring and get through holes and things like that. So he’s a hard-running running back.”
Who: Vanderbilt (3-1, 0-1 SEC) vs. No. 21 Florida (2-1, 2-0)
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850
Contact Kevin Brockway at 352-374-5054 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Brockway’s blog at Gatorsports.com.