On paper, Vanderbilt doesn’t quite match-up well with Florida.
The Commodores have given up 1,620 rushing yards through just eight games this season, good for 13th in the SEC, while ranking last in the conference in total defense.
In terms of overall futility on the defensive end, the Commodores are trumped only by Arkansas — although time remains for either program to out-blunder the other down the stretch.
Offensively, however, the Gators are particularly well-versed in the talent of one Commodore.
When Florida takes the field at noon Saturday to face Vanderbilt, the eyes of UF’s defense will be firmly fixed on redshirt senior running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. While the Commodores themselves are dead last in the SEC in total rushing yards, the Nashville native enters Saturday’s contest with 790 rushing yards, good for 31st in NCAA Division 1.
Vaughn trails Georgia’s D’Andre Swift by just 48 yards for the designation as the conference’s top rusher, meaning UF once again is gearing up to stack the box come Saturday.
“They did a good job against LSU as far as getting some point-of-attack movements. I think their line’s pretty physical. I think (Vaughn’s) really good,” said UF defensive coordinator Todd Grantham. “When you’re not having the success as a team, a guy like that does not get noticed. He’s hard to tackle, he runs through guys, he’s very similar to (South Carolina’s Tavien Feaster) and we didn’t initially do a great job with him at times, so we have to be aware of that. So he’s a guy I think you have to respect and understand that he can run through you, so you’ve got to play.”
Glancing at the statistics isn’t necessarily why Florida is preparing to neutralize Vaughn. It’s the memory of last season serving as a reminder of the threat the 5-foot-10 back poses.
Vanderbilt jumped out to a 18-point first-half lead in last season’s contest, with Vaughn having two big plays early that helped give the Commodores all of the momentum. First, Vaughn took a hand-off from Vandy’s two-yard line that helped set up the first score of the game. Then, following Evan McPherson’s chip-shot field goal, the Commodores went right back to their threat in the backfield. Vaughn took a screen pass 75 yards to the house to give the opposition an early double-digit lead on the Gators.
While the Gators would ultimately storm back — thanks to some strong rushing of their own from Lamical Perine and Jordan Scarlett — it wouldn’t be despite Vaughn’s best efforts.
After eclipsing 100 yards from scrimmage, Vaughn exited the game with an unspecified injury and never returned to the contest, as UF ultimately outscored the Commodores 34-6 over the remaining two-plus quarters.
In the eyes of both teams, it’s fair to say the scenario fits comfortably under the “what might have been” label.
The Gators, still in the mix for the SEC Eastern Division title, don’t want to give any credence to the notion that Vaughn’s departure gave way to a Florida comeback.
“I remember we didn’t come out how we wanted to (last season), I feel like we were still on a high after the LSU win. So yeah, I feel like going into this week we have to prepare really good,” said UF safety Donovan Stiner. “I remember that last year, like I said, they had a good running back and they were doing really good on offense, so we have to prepare for that.”
And, considering Vanderbilt’s situation at quarterback, it seems like a given that the run game will be the focal point of the opposition’s offense. The Commodores are set to start third-and-fourth string quarterbacks Deuce Wallace and Allan Walters, respectively, after starting quarterback Riley Neal suffered a concussion in the team’s previous contest. Back-up signal caller Mo Hasan is in the concussion protocol, too, meaning coach Derek Mason will turn to Wallace, who has never started a game in college, and Walters, who has yet to take a snap under center collegiately. Mason implied the two will split reps, although the lack of experience at the line of scrimmage makes Vaughn’s veteran presence all the more valuable for Vanderbilt.
For UF to stay in the room in the SEC’s title race, they’ll have to prevent Vaughn from essentially shutting the door Saturday — a tall task, yet one the Gators have been preparing for throughout the season.
“He’s definitely a decent back, but he’s the same as everybody else (in the SEC). We’re preparing the same way: just coming fast, physical and aggressive,” Gators linebacker Ventrell Miller said. “It’s time to come together and finish as a team. (We) worry about what’s next and controlling what we can control.”