Coming off a devastating and emotional loss to Georgia a week ago, and a rugged four-game stretch that featured three top-10 opponents over the past five weeks, this is exactly what the Florida Gators needed.
A chance to breathe. A chance to relax. A chance to cut loose, score some points and have some fun in front of their fans again.
The No. 10 Gators (8-2 overall and 5-2 in the SEC) certainly had all kinds of fun and scored all kinds of points Saturday in The Swamp, overwhelming Vanderbilt 56-0 before 86,201 with UF’s most complete team performance of the season.
“Games like this are confidence boosters and statement games,” said wide receiver Trevon Grimes, who started a second-half scoring onslaught for the Gators with a 66-yard touchdown reception on UF’s first offensive play of the third quarter. “We needed a game like this just to get everybody’s confidence back up. After a loss, everyone’s obviously down. We don’t want to be, but it’s just the nature of the game. We came back out here where everybody’s back, head high.
“The biggest thing Coach Mullen always talks about is playing with a chip on our shoulder. We knew we had to come out and make a statement, and I feel like we really did that. We came out and executed on offense, defense, as well as special teams. We just went out there and had a phenomenal team win.
“We’re looking forward to playing good football in these last couple of games.”
If Saturday’s performance is an indication of things to come, the Gators have a chance to close out the regular season strong.
After leaving a bunch of points on the field in a first half that saw quarterback Kyle Trask throw two interceptions and the Gators come away with only a 14-0 halftime lead, UF buried the Commodores with a 42-point second half.
So much for the pregame concerns about a possible hangover from what happened in Jacksonville a week earlier.
“This is a great win for us to come back after last week, good response by our guys,” UF coach Dan Mullen said. “The intensity in practice this week, how we prepared, how we came out and played, I thought that was pretty good for us.
“Obviously, great crowd. It was great to be back in The Swamp. The biggest thing to me was the energy. We fed so much off of that, being back home, having not been here for a long time.
“Our fans showed up and created an unbelievable environment. That’s what The Swamp is all about, creating the best home-field advantage in college football.”
The Gators certainly did their part to reward their fans. They put on a show both offensively and defensively.
UF rolled up 560 yards of offense, led by a 363-yard, three-touchdown passing performance by Trask, while holding the Commodores to only 51 yards rushing and just 128 total yards.
The second-half scoring feast featured highlight play after highlight play by the Gators, including Grimes’ long TD reception and run, defensive end Jon Greenard’s 80-yard scoop and score on a sack/fumble by true freshman outside linebacker Mohamoud Diabate and three touchdown runs by redshirt freshman quarterback Emory Jones.
“Our team did a great job of getting back on track,” said Trask, who completed 25 of 37 passes with a career-high for yards. “We still have a lot left to play for and at the end of the day, we still have to control what we can control.
“The receivers did a great job of getting open and our offensive line did a great job of just working really hard in practice, and it showed today. We could have put up a lot more points, but I’m really proud of the way our guys performed today.”
The Gators definitely left points on the field in the first half. Both of Trask’s interceptions came deep in Vandy territory — the first from the 27 and the second at the goal-line in the closing seconds. Both were made by Tae Daley. Even McPherson also missed a 41-yard field goal after UF had a first-and-10 on the 20.
What was the difference in the second half?
“We scored touchdowns,” Mullen said. “To be honest with you, with the exception of the ball crossing the goal line, really nothing. I thought we moved the ball really well most of the day and in the first half we left a bunch of points out there.
“It’s good that we scored a bunch, but I think we left a bunch out there and that’s kind of disappointing. Should have scored a whole bunch more, but great learning. Can’t turn it over, we had three red-zone possessions end up in two interceptions and a missed field goal and you can’t do that. So, we’ll keep working on it and keep getting better.”
Who: Florida at Missouri
When: 12 p.m. Saturday