Florida football: 3 things Gators learned from win over South Carolina, with Vandy up next

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

Florida (6-4, 3-4 SEC) will take a two-game winning streak into its final conference game of the season on Saturday at Vanderbilt (noon ET, SEC Network),

The Gators have won of late with the formula of playing strong defense and running the football. Florida has not allowed a defensive touchdown in its last six quarters while rushing for an average of 332.5 yards in wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina.

"We're playing better on defense situationally," Florida coach Billy Napier said. "The coverage and the rush is working together better.  

"Offensively, outside the last possession of the game, I think that's the fourth game in a row we haven't turned the ball over."

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Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5 SEC), under first-year coach Clark Lea, is coming off its first conference win since 2019, upsetting No. 24 Kentucky 24-21 to snap a 26-game SEC losing streak, Starting quarterback Mike Wright helped lead Vanderbilt with a 59-yard rushing TD and an 8-yard TD pass to Will Sheppard with 32 seconds left to seal the win.

"There's no question that Vanderbilt will be different as a result of winning the game," Napier said. "I think that's a reality. So we'll have to combat some of the positive things that come with them winning the game."

Here are three things the Gators learned from their win over South Carolina: 

The Gators have a ball-hawking defense

Florida safeties Rashad Torrence II (22) and Tre'Vez Johnson (16) celebrate after a stop against South Carolina during the first half of last Saturday's game in Gainesville.

Florida forced three more turnovers on defense, all on forced fumbles, to improve its turnover ratio to 7-1 over the last three games.

Florida's 19 turnovers forced are tied with Tennessee for the most in the SEC and its turnover margin of plus-8 is second in the SEC behind only the Vols (plus-9). Rashad Torrence, Trey Dean and Desmond Watson came up with fumble recoveries, with Watson providing the highlight, an 8-yard return and stiff-arm as he shifted the ball from one hand to another.

Florida defensive lineman Gervon Dexter Sr. said creating turnovers is reinforced in practice. "We have like a tackling circuit, and three of the tackling circuits is just us like punching the ball out, stripping the ball, getting on the ball when a fumble is recovered, stiff-arms and all the stuff like that when we do get a turnover," Dexter said. "We practice that a lot."

Florida has depth at wide receiver, tight end

The Gators were without tight end Keon Zipperer and receivers Justin Shorter and JaQuavion Fraziars, but other players stepped up in their absence. Freshman receiver Caleb Douglas had 3 catches for 23 yards, while Kahleil Jackson came up with a 23-yard catch.

Tight end Jonathan Odom made his first two career catches, which included a 4-yard TD catch. Odom's father, Jason Odom, was a four-year starter on Florida's offensive line from 1992-95 who went on to play in the NFL for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

"It’s a really surreal moment," Odom said. "My dad was on the sidelines for a little bit before the game because they were honoring his team. It was really just a blessing."

Offense needs to execute better in red zone

Florida came away 5 of 8 on red-zone scoring opportunities against South Carolina and has gone 9 of 15 in the red zone the past two weeks.

"The last couple weeks it's been penalties," Napier said. "We had procedure penalties, had a handful of mental errors. Nothing to do with the opponent, which is the frustrating part. Those are all things we can coach better. Those are all things I think we can help the players with."

Overall, Florida ranks last in the SEC in red-zone scoring at 73.33 percent, though special teams have played a role with 1 missed field goal and 1 blocked field goal inside the red zone. Florida's 60 percent touchdown percentage inside the red zone ranks 11th in the SEC, ahead of Missouri, Kentucky and Auburn.