GAINESVILLE, Fla. — No. 20 Florida beat Vanderbilt on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. But Vanderbilt, in so many ways, beat itself as well.
Multiple miscues and misplays in the first half put the Commodores behind the 8-ball after two quarters. And there wasn’t enough time left in the second half to formulate any sort of comeback.
“I thought offensively we weren’t able to counterpunch on our end. We threw the interception that gave them a short field (early in the second half) and those are recipes for disaster in this league,” Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea said. “For us to come on the road and win a game in a tough environment we have to finish our drives with seven points, we have to make our field goals, we have to flip the field on punts and we can’t turn the ball over.”
Yes, the Gators showed why they are ranked the No. 20 team in the country with their speed and ability to capitalize on their opportunities. The Commodores (2-4, 0-2 SEC), however, left the Sunshine State feeling like they let a golden chance at breaking a long SEC losing streak slip away.
After falling behind 14-0 in less than nine minutes, Vanderbilt found its footing thanks, in part, to an Elijah McAllister interception at Vanderbilt’s own 35. The ensuing offensive drive was humming right along to the Florida 16 – but a personal foul penalty preceded a missed 39-yard field goal by Joseph Bulovas.
Vanderbilt’s defense came out and forced another punt to give the Dores the ball back at their own 24. Eleven plays later Vandy had a first down at the Florida 23, only to see three straight incompletions and another missed Bulovas field goal – this one from 41 yards out.
Finally, just before halftime, a masterful, methodical drive got the Commodores down to the 1. A rush for no gain, an incomplete pass, a 1-yard loss on a running play and an incomplete pass (initially rolled a touchdown) saw Vanderbilt head into the locker room scoreless.
“You have to go back and evaluate (this game) honestly,” Vandy wide receiver Cam Johnson said. “Even though it hurts, you have to sort of look at the places you grew at and emphasize that to the team and make sure that they understand that, ‘Hey. We weren’t as bad as the score may have indicated. We actually grew in some places.’ Guys are still able to see that we’re making progress and see that we’re actually doing good things.
“But then you also have to be honest with yourselves and honest with the guys and say, ‘These are the plays where we have to get better.’ Those two combined are what’s going to make us be a better team throughout the second half of the season.”
The second half became inconsequential. Florida scored thrice within six minutes and 14 seconds to double its lead.
Vanderbilt could do little to mount any sort of momentum after that.
“When you look at the time of possession in the first half we were executing on our formula to try to control the game to try to tax their defense and stay on the field,” Lea said. “But we have to find some chunk gains and we have to find the end zone.
“If you can make your field goals and score touchdowns when you do get on their end of the field you’re in a tight game and now all of a sudden the energy shifts and we’re able to put some pressure on them in the third quarter and fourth quarter and find a way to win it. It’s never a good day offensively when you don’t score. We had some opportunities and we need to be better.”
Lea’s team will try to regroup this week back in Nashville before heading back out on the road for a trip to South Carolina (3-3, 0-3 SEC) at 3 p.m. CT Saturday. For two teams still searching for their first win in league play, desperation could be the name of the game in Columbia, South Carolina.
And Vandy will need to use that sense of urgency coupled with the many lessons learned from Saturday to once again try for an SEC win.
“I think you’re pleased in any situation in life when you progress in any area you can. I think we took a step forward today,” Vanderbilt linebacker McAllister said. “We like to get one percent better is what we like to say and I think we did today. Hopefully we can do that (Sunday) with recovery and Monday with another walk through and practice and so on and so forth throughout the week before our next opponent on Saturday.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.