Gators out to avoid upset


Florida's Mike Gillislee runs through LSU defenders during the first half against LSU at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last Saturday. The Gators won 14-6 over the Tigers.

Brad McClenny/Staff photographer
Published: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 7:57 p.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 7:57 p.m.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A week after celebrating a signature win in The Swamp, the No. 4 Florida Gators are hoping they don't find themselves on the losing end of one tonight.

That's what the Vanderbilt Commodores are seeking — a signature win similar to the one the Gators scripted against LSU last Saturday.

Just like Will Muschamp getting his first defining victory in his second season, many are saying it is inevitable that James Franklin will get his soon. The second-year coach and the Commodores have come close (they almost beat UF last season). Could tonight be the night?

“Our kids are really excited,” Franklin said. “It's a tremendous opportunity again, another opportunity for us to play one of the top teams in the country. This is our third top-six team in the country we've played this year already in South Carolina, Georgia and now Florida. So, tremendous opportunity.

“It's a tremendous challenge and are guys are looking forward to it. Great opportunity, great game, great team in our stadium and we'll see what happens.”

Vanderbilt's last attempt at a signature victory was a big swing-and-a-miss — a 48-3 loss at No. 5 Georgia three weeks ago in a game that was pretty much over at halftime.

But earlier in the season, the Commodores came close, only to fall to then-No. 9 South Carolina 17-13 after just missing a fourth-down pass on what could have been the winning drive late in the fourth quarter.

Now, a week after getting their first SEC road win at Missouri, the Commodores are ready to take a swing at their next heavyweight — Florida.

They're pumped about their chances. So, apparently, are their fans. Tonight's game is the first sellout at Vanderbilt Stadium since the Florida game in 2008.

“We're amped up about it,” Vanderbilt wide receiver Chris Boyd said. “We're excited we have them at home and we're going to prepare really well this week.

“It's fun because you get to play the best of the best. You have to come ready to play. It's fun getting to play the top teams in the country. We believe that if we have a good week of practice, we'll be able to make plays and execute.”

Vanderbilt will be facing a Florida team that looked very strong in its upset win last Saturday. The Gators shut out the Tigers in the second half and wore down one of the nation's elite defenses with a powerful running game in a 14-6 victory that moved UF into the top five nationally.

It's a big challenge for the 2-3 Commodores, but they know they can play with Florida. They did last year, nearly pulling off a big upset in The Swamp. The Gators did not secure a 26-21 victory until recovering an onside kick with 1:16 to play in the game.

“We go into every week knowing we have to come out fast and finish strong,” Vanderbilt defensive tackle Rob Lohr. “Last year, we obviously didn't do that. We had a terrible first half (trailing 17-0). But this year, we're just going to come out, play well, and finish. It's just about finishing, and that's kind of the mentality our defense has taken.

“We can't give up plays at the end of the first half and the end of the fourth quarter. We just have to step up, kind of like we did against Missouri. We were able to get them off the field and win the game, so that's kind of our mentality.”

The Commodores gave the Gators all kinds of problems on both sides of the ball in the second half of last year's game. UF never found an answer for dual-threat quarterback Jordan Rodgers, who threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns.

Rodgers is back, along with the most productive wide receiver duo in the SEC in Boyd and Jordan Matthews. The two are combining to average 170.3 yards receiving a game. Last year against UF, Matthews caught nine passes for 170 yards and a touchdown.

“They are good at what they do,” UF middle linebacker Jon Bostic said of the Vandy offense. “They can run the ball, they throw the ball and they've got a mobile quarterback. We've got to keep the quarterback contained and we can't let him get out of the pocket like we did last year. And we've got to be able to stop the run.

“Vanderbilt is much improved. They've got some guys that really are pretty good. A lot of people always overlook them, but this Vanderbilt team has been improving pretty much since my freshman year.”

Franklin said his second Vanderbilt team is better than his first.

“I think everyone thinks I'm crazy. But if you look at our statistics and compare the first four games from this year and last year, we're better,” he said. “Our scoring offense, we're better. Our total defense, we're 100 yards better. We have five more first downs per game. Total defense, we're better. Rushing defense, we're 70 yards better.”

It all adds up to the Commodores believing they can spring the upset.

The Gators seem smart enough to realize if they have a letdown coming off their win over LSU, they'll end up on the losing end of one a week later.

“You can't take anybody lightly, because anybody can beat you,” UF quarterback Jeff Driskel said. “This league is full of players and full of athletes. We can't take this week off or take it lightly.

“We're going to prepare like we have been the whole year and we'll be ready to go.”

Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or andreur@gvillesun.com. Also check out Andreu's blog at Gatorsports.com.

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