NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida had already started its comeback late in the first half Saturday when both benches emptied and a potential brawl ensued following a targeting penalty on linebacker James Houston.
But the heated exchange between players and some coaches, along with UF linebacker Vosean Joseph being ejected with his second unsportsmanlike penalty (one on him, one on the UF bench), lit a fire under the Gators, wide receiver Van Jefferson said.
It helped fuel the comeback performance by the Gators.
“That kind of motivated us,” Jefferson said. “Especially coach (Nick) Savage and all the strength coaches. They were turning us up. They motivated us a little bit more.
“They were just saying, ‘Hey, they want to disrespect you guys. Go out there and take it over now.’ That’s what we did.”
During the incident there was some salty language exchanged between UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason and one of his assistants.
UF coach Dan Mullen downplayed the potential fracas after UF’s 37-27 win.
“We’re not going to get into that publicly at all,” he said. “Derek’s a great, really close friend of mine. And I think, our sideline, we’ve got to make sure we’re cleaner in that situation and he probably thinks the same thing, but there’s nothing carrying over from that and nothing to get into publicly.”
The Gators lost two linebackers to ejection during the incident — Joseph for a second unsportsmanlike penalty and Houston for targeting.
“We got in the locker room and I said, ‘Hey, everybody’s got an unsportsmanlike penalty, so get another and you’re thrown out of the game,’ ” Mullen said. “That was about it. It was more about the football part of it all to me, let’s be smart and play football.
“Because it’s not like we were perfect between the whistles, from snap to whistle. It wasn’t like we were like a juggernaut in the first half right there with how we were executing and playing. Let’s put the focus back on that and get back to execution.”
Two 100-yard guys
Speaking of execution, that’s exactly what the Gators had in the running game Saturday. They had two running backs — Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine — rush for more than 100 yards.
Scarlett had 121 and a touchdown, while Scarlett rushed for 113 and a TD. Coming into Saturday’s game, no UF back had rushed for 100 yards in a game this season.
“We were tired of hearing everybody say other schools have got great running backs,” Scarlett said. “We knew how good we were and what we could do. We just needed to get the ball in our hands and show the world what was going on. I’m glad that we got to showcase that today.”
Success on the ground led to success through the air, quarterback Feleipe Franks said.
“The running backs had a really good day,” Franks said. “I told them all throughout the game that they set up every opportunity for me to throw the ball, the way they run downhill and with power.
“Our running backs had a really good day and it helped me out a lot.”
Too many big plays
Florida’s overall defensive performance was OK, but not up to recent standards. And the Gators continued to be vulnerable at times, giving up big plays.
In Saturday’s game, the defense gave up a 75-yard screen pass for a touchdown, a 43-yard run and two pass plays of more than 20 yards.
“Some of them, I think we’re going to see a lack of effort. I think some we’re going to have an MA, a missed assignment,” Mullen said. “On some, I don’t think we strained to the level that’s expected to erase and eliminate a big play.
“Guys have got to understand, if one guy makes a big mistake for a big play, everybody else can’t sit there and say, ‘Hey, I did my job.’ We need guys to erase it. Hey, they created a big play. Erase it. They got a 12-yard play, 13, 14-yard play, erase it and make sure that’s the end of it and make sure it doesn’t go any further.”
Jefferson celebrates return
It was a happy homecoming for Jefferson, who played his high school ball at Ravenwood High School in Nashville. His 38-yard TD reception late in the third quarter was a pivotal play in UF’s comeback.
“It was nice, especially here in Nashville,” Jefferson said. “I had a lot of family and high school teammates and friends here. It was pretty exciting.”
Jefferson credits Franks with holding the team together Saturday when things were tough early, then making plays when he had to in the second half.
“Feleipe did a great job of keeping our offense ready,” he said. “It was really Feleipe who got the offense together. We made the adjustments at halftime and came out here and won.
“That’s just Feleipe. He’s hardworking and doesn’t let anything faze him. He came out and did his thing today. He had two turnovers, but just kept playing.”