For decades now, egregious mistakes on the football field have been referred to by those in SEC Country as “Vanderbilt things to do.”
And it’s only because the Vanderbilt Commodores committed a bunch of them that Florida survived that road trip unscathed.
The Gators scored first, and thus took the lead for keeps, when Jordan Scarlett juked a defender in the backfield and then surged into the end zone midway through the second quarter. Neither offense could do much of anything the rest of the way, but that touchdown proved to be the difference in a 13-6 win.
I’ll say this about Austin Appleby: he’s got a Glock for an arm. He just doesn’t know how or when to use it, instead opting to fire every pass as hard as he possibly could on Saturday. Some of these passes were on target, while others were not. And those that were on target asked a whole lot more out of his receivers than most accurately placed throws. That said… hey, the guy did his job, led his team to a road win and earned his spot in Gator history as a winning quarterback.
And I say that because Luke Del Rio is probably going to be back for LSU. Assuming he doesn’t regress in terms of leading his offense, things should pretty much go back to the way they were when he was in charge. So that problem should be fixed.
But the defense has a whole other set of problems.
Vanderbilt’s Ralph Webb torched the Gators on the ground. You know, again. Webb rushed for 110 yards against Florida’s vaunted defense. That comes one week after the Gators surrendered 38 consecutive points to Tennessee in about 25 minutes of game action. For all the NFL talent on this defense- and there’s a lot of it- it yields an uneasy conclusion: that isn’t bad, that’s horrible, and this can’t happen on a weekly basis.
Webb isn’t the worst running back in the country by any means, but he’s nowhere near the caliber of Leonard Fournette, Sony Michel or Dalvin Cook, and Florida has to face all three. If the Gators don’t learn to increase pressure at the point of attack and invade the backfield to blow up running plays before they get started, they’re liable to give up 200 yards to each of them. Making matters worse, LSU, FSU and Georgia have additional playmakers on offense that Florida has to watch out for.
Luckily, Vanderbilt didn’t.
The Commodores’ first problem was that they didn’t have a dependable quarterback. They used Kyle Shurmur for most of the game before turning to Wade Freebeck, and the two barely combined for 100 yards through the air. Both threw drive killing interceptions- and in Freebeck’s case, the game ending one- and neither could ever get his offense into a rhythm. Florida may not have stopped Webb, but they did do a good job of blanketing the Dores’ receivers and harassing their quarterbacks. Caleb Brantley cleanly split four gaps in succession at one point; maybe that had something to do with it.
And Vandy’s second problem was that they couldn’t get out of their own way late. A dropped snap on a punt essentially ended the game with five minutes to go, even though the Gators refused to score on it (with an attitude of “nah, we’re good, we don’t want the points in a 13-6 game”) and gave it back. Between the time Vandy fumbled the snap and Austin Appleby fumbled Cam Dillard’s snap, valuable time had elapsed and now Vanderbilt was stuck way in its own end.
A few plays later, Jarrad Davis got his hand on Wade Freebeck’s pass and punched it up, meaning an easy game ending interception for Nick Washington. And Florida didn’t really win a game as much as they survived a trap game following a devastating loss.
But there’s not really another way to put it: this type of performance isn’t going to be acceptable if Florida wants any shot of winning the SEC East now that they have zero margin for error. The defense cannot get gashed like they did, and the offense cannot rely solely on a running game. I’ll grant you that the latter problem should be fixed simply by Del Rio returning, but the defense has been a concern at a point in the year where it should not be, and now that the really good offenses loom ahead, it’s time for them to step up.