Published: Saturday, October 13, 2012 at 8:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, October 12, 2012 at 10:05 p.m.
Staff writers Robbie Andreu and Adam West take a closer look at today's game in Nashville.
Another streak on the line
A few weeks ago, the Gators extended their winning streak over Kentucky to 25 games. Tonight, they will try to stretch their winning streak over the Commodores to 22 games. Although the players and coaches were asked many questions about the streak against UK the week before the game, there has been almost no mention of the long run of success the Gators have had against Vandy. Maybe 22 just isn't enough to get anyone in the media excited.
These 'Dores can open it up
Last week, UF's No. 1 defensive goal was to try and shut down LSU's big, fast, physical tailbacks, and the Gators did, holding LSU to 42 yards rushing. Tonight, the Gators will be targeting two proven playmakers on the Vanderbilt offense — tailback Zac Stacy and wide receiver Jordan Matthews. Stacy is a fast, shifty runner who is third on Vanderbilt's all-time rushing list with 2,415 yards. Matthews leads the SEC in receptions per game with seven. UF shut down Stacy in last year's game, holding him to 49 yards on 13 carries. But Matthews scorched the UF secondary, catching nine passes for 170 yards and a touchdown. The Gators will try to man up Matthews in what may be the biggest matchup of the game for the UF defense.
Vandy not Vandy anymore
Just a few weeks ago, it looked like the old Commodores were back in a 48-3 loss at Georgia. All that preseason excitement seemed to vanish with that one bad day in Athens. But, hey, the Commodores have regained some of their preseason swagger with a 19-15 win at Missouri last Saturday. It was Vandy's first SEC road win in two seasons. This is a team that is desperate for that signature win against a top-10 opponent. Vandy almost pulled it off in the opener before losing 17-13 to South Carolina. The Commodores will get another chance at a defining win under James Franklin tonight. Dudley Field is not exactly known for its loud and electric atmosphere, but that's what the Gators will get tonight.
Florida continued its second-half dominance this season by shutting out LSU over the final two quarters a week ago in The Swamp. UF has now shut out three opponents (LSU, Texas A&M and Kentucky) in the second half and has outscored its opponents 78-13. The Gators have been their strongest in the fourth quarter, outscoring their opponents 41-0. UF is the only school in the nation that has not given up a fourth-quarter score this season. If the Gators are close going into the second half, you've got to like their chances. This has been a strong second-half team. Vandy, on the other hand, has not been. The Commodores have been outscored in the second half 57-47, and in the fourth quarter 30-16.
Today's game marks the first of four straight against SEC East opponents for UF. While Vanderbilt is not considered to be much of a contender in the division, Florida's biggest threats to preventing an Atlanta trip follow on the schedule with South Carolina visiting Gainesville next week followed by a date with Georgia in Jacksonville. But first, the Gators need to take care of business tonight against the Commodores before they even start to think about a division title. Vandy gave Florida trouble last year, and has the benefit of home-field advantage this time around.
With a win tonight in Nashville, the undefeated Gators would earn an important sixth victory that would make them eligible for their 22nd straight bowl appearance (first in the SEC and second nationally only to Florida State, which is seeking its 31st in a row). Wrapping up bowl eligibility in the middle of October would be a nice bonus for a team that only had six regular-season wins last season and didn't earn its sixth until a closer-than-it-looked 54-32 victory over Furman on Nov. 19.
Passing on passing?
Most of the preseason talk about the Gators centered around who would be named the starting quarterback. Five games into the year, and the position has almost become an afterthought for a team that relies heavily on its running game and defense to gain the upper hand on opponents. Jeff Driskel only attempted 12 passes for 61 yards the Gators ran the ball 25 times to close out a program-reviving win against LSU. Will the Florida offense continue to rely on running plays today, or will Driskel have a chance to prove himself against the SEC's third-best pass defense?
Florida's pass defense ranks near the top of the SEC but will have to contend with Vanderbilt's talented pass-catching tandem of Matthews and Chris Boyd. Matthews is second in the league with 97.2 receiving yards per game. Boyd is not far behind, averaging 73.6 yards (good for 7th in the SEC). The Florida secondary will need to keep tabs on these two dangerous wide receivers today.