Florida takeaways: Gators rout Vandy behind Jones' career day, defensive shutout

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports

No. 18 Florida rebounded from last week’s Kentucky loss with a dominant 42-0 homecoming win Saturday over Vanderbilt.

The Gators (4-2, 2-2 SEC) pitched their first shutout since 2019 and quarterback Emory Jones accounted for 313 total yards and four touchdowns, extending the program’s winning streak over the Commodores (2-4, 0-2 SEC) to eight games. 

"It was a great job for the offense scoring 42 points, but we know on defense we just had to keep holding them, because we wanted the goose egg for the whole game," UF safety Rashad Torrence II said afterward. "So it didn’t matter if they scored 42 or four, we were just going to play that style of defense.”

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Here are three takeaways from Saturday: 

Florida wide receiver Trent Whittemore (14) looks for the touchdown pass in the end zone from quarterback Emory Jones during the second quarter Saturday against Vanderbilt at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Career-high passing performance from Emory Jones

Quarterback Emory Jones turned in his best passing game as a Gator and eclipsed 300 total yards for the second consecutive home game. 

Jones completed 14 of 22 pass attempts for 274 yards and four touchdowns, both career highs. Jones’ 69-yard touchdown to Dameon Pierce was the longest pass of his career, and he had completions of 51 yards (Nay’Quan Wright), 47 yards (Jacob Copeland) and 32 yards (Trent Whittemore). 

He also threw TD passes to Ja’Quavion Fraziars, Whittemore and Copeland, who led the Gators with five catches for 79 receiving yards. 

“I didn’t even honestly know that I threw four touchdowns. But I looked up at the scoreboard one time and it said I had four and thought it was wrong. I really didn’t remember doing it," Jones said. "I mean, it’s exciting. But all the guys around me — they definitely were the biggest part of that.

"They make it all happen, especially the O-line. They give me time back there. I have confidence in all those guys up front. All the skill players make plays for me all the time as you can see. They really made all of that happen.”

Jones also rushed 40 yards on five carries, all in the first half, including a 16-yard run to the Vandy 9 on fourth-and-1.

Jones did have one turnover after UF went up 42-0, throwing into double coverage and getting intercepted by Vanderbilt’s Dashaun Jerkins on a tipped pass.

Nay'Quan Wright, Dameon Pierce carry load without Malik Davis

Florida running backs Dameon Pierce and Nay’Quan Wright stepped their game up Saturday with Malik Davis not dressed for the game. 

Pierce and Wright combined for 176 total yards, including two huge plays in the passing game. Wright’s 51-yard catch-and-run marked the second 50-yard reception of his career, while Pierce’s long touchdown got the offense rolling in the third quarter. 

Florida quarterback Emory Jones hands off to running back Dameon Pierce for a touchdown in the first quarter Saturday against Vanderbilt at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Wright also had an incredible 34-yard run that featured a nasty juke move and set up Florida’s first score. He ran the ball seven times for a team-high 46 yards. 

"Obviously with Malik down this game, Nay'Quan had more opportunities. He came up and played pretty well," Florida head coach Dan Mullen said. 

Pierce, who entered the game with five touchdowns on the season, scored a hat trick on Saturday and rushed for 12 yards on seven carries. 

“He’s a pretty short, powerful guy," Mullen said of Pierce. "So he ends up being in there a lot in those situations. He’s a strong, very strong physical runner, low center of gravity with power running the ball between the tackles. He gets the opportunity sometimes to go get those carries. He’s done a great job of punching them in the end zone.”

The Gators won the rushing battle, 181-88, though their No. 3-ranked ground game was held under 200 yards for the second week in a row. Demarkcus Bowman added 21 yards on five carries in the fourth quarter, while Lorenzo Lingard Jr. had three carries for 13 yards and a nine-yard reception. 

D pitches shutout with missed opportunities by VU

The Gators held Vandy scoreless for the second time in three years. 

However, it could have easily been a one-score game heading into the half. The Commodores drove into UF territory on back-to-back possessions to get into field-goal range. 

Kicker Joseph Bulovas’ first attempt from 39 yards hit the left upright, and then he missed from 41 yards.  

After an interception by Florida’s Daquan Newkirk, quarterback Ken Seals responded with a 13-play, 73-yard drive before halftime. Vanderbilt had first-and-goal from the 1, but the UF defense made a goal-line stand and forced a turnover on downs. 

Mullen called the defense's first-half performance "awful" heading into the locker room. 

“They played 50 snaps, gave up over 200 yards of offense, couldn’t get off the field. They were on the field the entire half with the exception of two drives that were three and outs," Mullen said. "Missed tackles. Giving up third-down conversions. Then in the second half, I saw us go back to where we were kind of on those first drives.

"We completely slammed the door on them and played with an intensity. It’s not like, 'Hey let them drive the length of the field.' You look at the first half, defensively, they missed a couple field goals and they had kind of a drop on an overturned play in the end zone. So in the second half, we made sure they didn’t have those opportunities.”

After Jones’ interception in the third quarter, Bulovas got a third opportunity from 33 yards and missed wide left again. Outside of Vandy’s four drives with missed scoring opportunities, the Gators gave up just 102 yards on their other nine defensive possessions and had four three-and-outs. 

The last was an interception by Trey Dean III, who also broke up two passes Saturday. Fellow safety Rashad Torrence II led the team with a career-high 15 tackles. 

"I’m thanking my whole defense, because they bounced the ball outside to where I could make the tackle," Torrence said of his performance. "But just knowing where the ball’s going, film study, you just see the small tendencies of certain guys and just know where you think the ball’s going to be.”

Seals finished with 192 yards on 22 of 43 passing and was sacked three times, including 1.5 sacks from redshirt freshman outside linebacker Antwuan Powell. 

"It was my first sack since my senior year," said Powell, one of several underclassmen to play in the second half. "The halftime message was, 'They don't get nothing. At all. Stop them.' Just the mindset of us to keep them from scoring. That's really it, just wanted to keep that zero on the board."

Up next

Who: Florida vs. LSU

When: 12 p.m. Saturday

Where: Tiger Stadium, Baton Rouge, La.


Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850