Music City Misery: Five takeaways from Florida football's 31-24 loss at Vanderbilt
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Florida football suffered its first loss at Vanderbilt in more than 30 years, as the Commodores held off a late charge to beat the Gators 31-24 at First Bank Stadium.
Down 31-18, Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to Daejon Reynolds with 3:13 left to cut Vanderbilt's lead to 31-24. But Florida kicker Adam Mihalek missed his first extra point attempt of the season and the Gators were unable to recover the ensuing onside kick.
Quarterback Mike Wright threw three touchdown passes and Ray Davis rushed for 122 yards to lead Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-5 SEC) to its second straight win.
The loss snapped Florida's 16-game win streak at Vanderbilt. Florida's last loss at Vanderbilt was in 1988, when Members Only jackets and parachute pants were still in fashion. With the loss, the Gators (6-5, 3-5 SEC) concluded with a losing record in conference play for the second straight season and had their modest two-game win streak snapped.
"A ton of missed opportunities out there today," Florida coach Billy Napier said. "This is a simple game. I think our group knows what winning football looks like. We did not play winning football today ...
"There’s a lot of Florida beating Florida out there today. That’s my job is to have the players ready to play — we did not do that today. I think our group understands what happened out there today and ultimately not enough to win."
Florida lost two starters to injuries during the game as receiver Ricky Pearsall and safety Rashad Torrence II both left with undisclosed injuries.
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Here are five takeaways from the game:
An up-and-down day for quarterback Anthony Richardson
Richardson completed 25 of 42 passes for 400 yards with three TDs and one interception, his first pick since Oct. 8 against Missouri. He couldn't get much going on the ground with only four carries for 25 yards.
It was Richardson's second 400-yard passing game of the season and his highest output since throwing for a career-high 453 yards against Tennessee.
"I could have done some things better," Richardson said, "Made some better reads, better checks for us or even been a better leader. So, just got to work. That's all."
Richardson's last-gasp attempt to tie the game on a pass from the Vanderbilt 30-yard line with 2 seconds left was nowhere close to the end zone where a teammate could make a play as it sailed high out of the end zone.
Richardson said what bothered him the most about his performance was the interception, a low throw that ricocheted off the hands of receiver Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman and into the arms of defensive back Jaylen Mahoney.
“I was kind of frustrated because I was trying to throw it away but I noticed my guy Thai trying to make a play for me so I can’t fault him," Richardson said, "I’ve just got to eat it, take the sack. Turnovers you don’t want."
In the second half, Richardson developed a chemistry with Reynolds, who stepped in for an injured Pearsall to finish with eight catches for 165 yards and two TDs, including a 74-yard TD catch early in the fourth quarter.
“He’s seen his opportunities, took advantage of it," Richardson said, "Certain coverages they left him open and it opened it up for him so why not attack him and give him the ball.”
Florida can't get run game going
After rushing for 291 yards and 362 yards in back-to-back wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina, Florida gained just 45 yards on 21 carries against the Commodores.
The Commodores came out with a game plan of making Florida beat them throwing the football, and it worked.
“They did a good job of fitting the run," Napier said. "They played inside out. They forced us to throw it to the perimeter at times. They made Anthony hand the ball off at times."
Another slow start
Like two weeks ago against Texas A&M, Florida was unable to answer the bell for an 11 a.m. local start. Florida's defense forced a three-and-out on its first defensive possession, but Florida settled for a field goal on its opening offensive drive when running back Montrell Johnson Jr. dropped a potential touchdown pass.
Then, Vanderbilt put together a 12-play, 81-yard TD drive, aided by a personal foul penalty by defensive lineman Princely Umanmielen and a facemask penalty on a sack by Austin Powell-Ryland negated a couple of third-down stops.
Then, Vanderbilt got a touchdown on a muffed punt by Jason Marshall Jr. that long snapper Wesley Shelling recovered in the end zone to give the Commodores a 14-6 lead it took into halftime.
"We moved it down in there, you know, into the low red and got six to show for a lot of yards, right," Napier said. "Scored touchdowns in the red area and making the other team kick field goals in the red area is a key component to the way we play in winning football, and didn’t do it today.”
Special teams allow another TD
Injuries to Xzavier Henderson, then Pearsall, forced Florida to turn to its third-string punt returner Marshall, who should have planted his feet at the 10-yard line and let the punt sail over him.
Instead, Marshall tried to field the kick as he back-pedaled and had it trickle off his hands.
"That was a technical decision there," Napier said. "We need to coach him better. That’s our, specifically something that we talked about going into the game. He could potentially have to run out there. Jason will learn from that."
It was the second straight week Florida's special teams surrendered a touchdown after giving up a 48-yard TD on a fake punt pass against South Carolina.
Marshall later redeemed himself on defense with his first interception of the season in the fourth quarter.
Penalties prove costly
Florida was flagged five times for 60 yards. In addition to the personal fouls on Umanmielen and Powell-Ryland that extended UF's first touchdown drive, Florida had an illegal procedure penalty that negated a 27-yard run by Johnson down to Vanderbilt's 4-yard line.
Then, in the second half, Florida had a chance to get Vanderbilt off the field on third down, but linebacker Amari Burney was whistled for a questionable defensive holding penalty, which allowed a 12-play, 66-yard touchdown drive in the third quarter to stay alive.
“I don’t question the refs, but I really don't know how they called it on me," Burney said, "But it was penalties like that that we couldn’t get off the field on third down that can’t keep making.”
In the fourth quarter, linebacker Ventrell Miler, who had a team-high 11 tackles, was ejected for targeting.