No. 14 Florida at Vanderbilt: Today’s storylines

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Florida defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga (92) and teammates sack Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur in last year's game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. [Alan Youngblood/Staff photographer]

Today

Who: No. 14 Florida (5-1, 3-1 SEC) vs. Vanderbilt (3-3, 0-2)

When: 12 p.m.

Where: Vanderbilt Stadium, Nashville, Tenn.

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Vegas Line: Florida by 7

All-time series: Florida has dominated this series leading 39-10-2.

Last 10 years: The Gators haven’t made it a clean sweep, but they have been close winning nine of the 10 games. The lone loss was in 2013 in Gainesville.

Last time they met: Florida took a two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter, but Vandy rallied to pull within seven. On a fourth-and-1, Malik Davis broke through a hole for a clinching 39-yard TD and a 38-24 win. That made coach Jim McElwain 16-3 in SEC games.

Fun fact: Florida beat Vanderbilt 22 straight times from 1989-to-2012. Only six times during that Gator winning streak did the Commodores come within a touchdown.

Gators amping up the heat

There’s no doubt Florida’s defense is going to go all-out to put pressure on Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur — because that’s what the Gators do. They attack. Todd Grantham’s more aggressive style of defense has been producing all kinds of sacks and tackles for losses. In the last two games alone, the Gators have had 11 sacks and 19 tackles for losses. For the season, UF now already has 20 sacks and 48 tackles. Last year, in a more passive scheme, the Gators had only 23 sacks and 73 tackles for losses for the entire season. UF, of course, is led in sacks by Jachai Polite with 6.0. Jabari Zuniga is a close second with 4.5. Here are some telling numbers about this being a team thing: eight different players have had sacks, while 21 have had at least a partial TFL.

OL needs more work

Speaking of numbers, they looked good for the Gators in the win over LSU: 215 yards rushing, zero sacks and 391 total yards of offense against a strong and proven defense. Those numbers usually would indicate progress being made on the offensive line. But Dan Mullen and John Hevesy said otherwise this week. The line, although it did not give up any sacks, had problems with the LSU pressure that contributed to an interception in the end zone and several lost opportunities for big plays in the passing game. No sacks doesn’t necessarily mean no pressure, something we saw last week. As for the 215 yards rushing, most of it came on the perimeter. The offensive line continues to have problems creating push in the inside running game, something the Gators hope to improve today against a solid Vandy defensive front.

Running back by committee

Florida and Vanderbilt have similar situations at running back. Neither has a dominant back, but both have effectively run the ball by committee. Although true freshman Dameon Pierce did not get his carries in the LSU game last week, the Gators have had a three-man rotation at running back with Pierce, Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine. The three have combined to rush for 778 yards and six touchdowns. Vandy also has a three-headed running back in Ke’Shawn Vaughn, Khari Blasingame and Jamauri Wakefield. They have combined to rush for 882 yards and seven touchdowns. Chances are six running backs will be featured in today’s game. That means fresh legs all around in the running game.

What’s at stake?

The Gators have a four-game winning streak going since losing to Kentucky and need a victory to keep pace in the chase for second in the SEC East. Vanderbilt is looking for its first league victory this season and a very rare win over Florida.

Key matchup

Florida’s pass defense vs. Vanderbilt quarterback Kyle Shurmur and the Vanderbilt passing game: Even with starting cornerback Marco Wilson out, the Gators have continued their DBU tradition. UF leads the SEC in both pass defense and pass defense efficiency. The Gators are giving up only 148.7 passing yards a game and have had only three touchdown passes thrown on them all season. Opponents have completed just 50 percent of their passes. The secondary will be facing its toughest test so far this season. Shurmur has thrown for 1,400 yards and nine touchdowns and is averaging 233.3 passing yards a game. He is considered a good NFL prospect. He’s been spreading the ball around to multiple receivers, so every aspect of the UF back end will be tested today.

The Commodores rank third in the SEC and are tied for 15th nationally in fewest sacks allowed. The Gators come in leading the SEC and tied for third nationally with 20 total sacks. Florida also is tied for 11th nationally with 48 total tackles for loss.

Florida’s defensive success is largely attributed to one statistic: tackles for loss. The Gators have notched at least eight tackles for loss in four games, including 11 last week against LSU. They had a season-high six sacks the previous week at Mississippi State. All those negative plays often stall drives and lead to punts or turnovers.

Four Gators have at least six tackles for loss.

Players to watch

Florida: DL Jachai Polite has four of his team-leading six sacks in the last two games and leads the Football Bowl Subdivision with four forced fumbles.

Vanderbilt: QB Kyle Shurmur. The senior snapped a streak of 14 straight games with a TD pass in the Commodore’s loss at Georgia. But Shurmur ranks fifth in the SEC averaging 233.3 yards passing per game.

Vanderbilt is hoping senior linebacker Charles Wright is back after missing three games with an unspecified injury. Mason says Wright’s experience allows him to identify what he’s seeing, helping him play faster than the younger players who’ve replaced the linebacker.

Flag time

The Gators will need to play a bit cleaner than they did against LSU when they were flagged 11 times for 116 yards. Vanderbilt leads the SEC in fewest penalty yards per game even after being flagged a season-high nine times for 69 yards last week.

Facts & Figures

Florida has won 26 of 27 in this series, including 22 straight between 1989 and 2012. … Florida has at least five sacks in three games. … Florida coach Dan Mullen is 2-0 all-time vs. Vanderbilt. … Florida is coming off its first win over a top-five team since Oct. 3, 2015. … The Gators rank second nationally with 17 takeaways, matching their total for all of last season. They lead the nation with 11 fumbles recovered. … They have scored 50 points off turnovers. … Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason is 0-4 vs. Florida. … This is Commodores’ lone home game in October. … Vanderbilt hasn’t beaten a ranked team since September 2017 with a win over No. 18 Kansas State. … Vanderbilt WR Kalija Lipscomb leads SEC with 45 catches and 496 yards receiving. He is tied for league lead with six TD catches. … Ke’Shawn Vaughn is Vanderbilt’s leading rusher with 439 yards and five TDs.

Today’s game questions

• Coming off the big emotional win over LSU, will the Gators come out flat with the early kickoff in a stadium that usually lacks atmosphere?

• Will quarterback Feleipe Franks continue to make strides in his development under Dan Mullen and Brian Johnson?

• Will Vanderbilt hit some big plays in the passing game?

• Can the Gators generate a steady and strong pass rush against Vandy QB Kyle Shurmur.

• The offensive line didn’t give up a sack against LSU, although protection was spotty at times. How well will the big guys protect Franks?

Click back Monday for Andreu’s answers

Andreu’s pick

Florida 16, Vanderbilt 10

(Season record: 3-3)

Sun staff writer Pat Dooley and The Associated Press contributed to this report.


8 COMMENTS

  1. The only way to run inside effectively is to keep the safeties out of the box and the linebackers back from the line of scrimmage by having an effective passing game with your tight ends and slot receivers running crossing routes all over the place. The Gators certainly have the players to do this. Franks will just need to find them quickly and hit them.

  2. Those penalties worry me. We have to play smarter. The last few weeks we’ve been able to overcome them, though some big plays were wiped out. But I am a big believer in the inevitability of math, and stats say lots of penalties eventually lead to losses.

  3. STORYLINE RHYME
    When the Gators leave Nashville they’ll be feelin’Jimdandy
    After puttin’ a hurtin’ on poor ole Vandy
    When to Polite and Zuniga the ‘Dores offense was candy
    As Cambell and Shuler brought their modus operandi
    And Scarlett and Perine made those miniscule ‘Dore fans scream like banchees
    ‘Cause the Gator rbs chewed up yards as they fancied.