Florida football: 3 things Gators learned from Vanderbilt loss, with Florida State up next

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

The Florida Gators head into Thanksgiving week on a down rote after a Music City stunner, falling 31-24 at Vanderbilt for their first road loss to the Commodores since 1988.

The Gators (6-5, 3-5 SEC) have struggled to find consistency in their first season under head coach Billy Napier, but they could salvage some pride with a win Friday night at rival Florida State (7:30 p.m., ABC).

Florida has won three straight in the rivalry and holds an overall 37-26-2 edge in the series.

"When I was growing up, Florida and Florida State were dominating college football," Napier said. "It was Steve Spurrier, it was Bobby Bowden, and it's pretty awesome to be a part of this game."

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Florida punter Jeremy Crawshaw has learned about the nature of the rivalry since arriving from New South Wales, Australia three years ago.

"I never grew up hating them." Crawshaw said. "I didn’t even know who they were until I came here. Now you hate them because just being a Florida Gator you don’t want to lose to them so we’re coming in hot this week. We want to turn around after what happened last week and go get ourselves a win to finish off the season.” 

Here are three things the Gators learned from the Vanderbilt loss:

Florida needs to get back to work on the running game

Florida rushed for a season-low 45 yards against Vanderbilt after averaging 332.5 yards on the ground in back-to-back wins over Texas A&M and South Carolina.

"Early on in the game there was some time of possession differences, and then once you got behind, it became, OK, we've got to get back in the game," Napier said. "Two explosive runs that got called back, throw those in the mix, and I think the numbers are a lot different."

Offensive lineman O'Cyrus Torrence mentioned communication on the offensive line playing a role in the run game struggles. Quarterback Anthony Richardson said he could have made better decisions keeping the ball on some read-option plays.

"There were times I could have pulled the ball and probably ran backwards into the end zone," Richardson said. "I didn't realize until after I handed the ball off. Especially when it comes to RPOs and reads and stuff like that, sometimes you can misjudge the way defenses play at you or the way you're supposed to attack the defense."

Florida is 6-1 this season when it runs for 200 or more yards, and 0-4 when it is held to under 200 yards rushing. 

Daejon Reynolds has a bright future in Florida's offense

Florida receiver Daejon Reynolds, pushing off a defensive back during the game against Eastern Washington earlier this season, had a big day against Vanderbilt with 8 catches for 165 yards and 2 TDs.

Reynolds stepped in for an injured Ricky Pearsall against Vanderbilt and stepped up with a career day, with 8 catches for 165 yards and 2 TDs. For the season, Reynolds has 11 catches for 244 yards, which included a 74-yard TD catch against the Commodores.

“The team kinda knew what I could do, so I felt I had to prove to the coaches what I could really do," Reynolds said. "I kinda gave myself an extra edge of confidence. I always knew I could do it but doing it in a game makes it feel a lot better."

Florida's special teams aren't so special

The lowlights for Florida on special teams against Vanderbilt included a muffed punt that resulted in a touchdown, a missed extra point and another holding penalty on a return.

It's been an up and down year for first-year Florida special teams analyst Chris Couch, whose group has given up more game changing plays than produced. The lone bright spot has been Crawshaw, who is averaging 46.9 yards per punt with 14 downed inside the 20-yard line.

"For the specialists we thrive to, I guess, if you are doing your job you’re going under the radar, you’re not really checked upon, so, you know if you get into the spotlight, it’s probably not a good thing, unless you are doing really, really well," Crawshaw said. "So you know we see when we’re doing good and we’re doing bad and we’ll check ourselves and we’ll re-asses and fix things.”

Depth has played a role in Florida's special teams struggles, as with Xzavier Henderson and Pearsall both injured, Florida was down to third-string punt returner Jason Marshall, who lost the ball in the sun.

"It’s all instinctual," Crawshaw said. "Lost in the moment. Things happen on the catch. It’s pretty easy to say, ‘Mate, you should have left that,’ but you’re in the moment and people are running at you with the wind blowing the ball over your head, things happen."