Florida's renaissance as a top five team has been a few years in the making. Can Vanderbilt derail their national title aspirations on Saturday?
Vanderbilt will look to claw back to .500 this season on Saturday, but they'll have a monumental challenge in front of them. They'll be facing fourth-ranked Florida at Dudley Field in a matchup the Commodores haven't won since 1989. In fact, if the Gators win this weekend, they'll tie the record for most consecutive wins against the Vanderbilt football team.
That record is currently held by Tennessee, and only a superlative effort from Jay Cutler and a freshman named Earl Bennett
was enough to rupture the Volunteers' streak. If the 'Dores want to stop Florida from matching that ignominious feat, they'll have to get similar efforts from Jordan Rodgers
and his wideout tandem of Jordan Matthews
and Chris Boyd
. While the Gators have been solid in 2012, Vandy's combination of solid defense and streaky passing could be a catalyst in what could be a resume-making upset win for head coach James Franklin
So will this weekend's game be closer to last year's heartbreaking loss? Or will it be more like 2010, when Robbie Caldwell's team got dragged up and down the field for 60 listless minutes? To get some more perspective headed into Saturday's contest, we enlisted the help of Alligator Army Editor-in-Chief Andy Hutchins
. Andy's excellent insight is below, and you can catch all of his work over at Alligator Army
1. Florida's renaissance this season has been a few years in the works. What one factor has had the biggest influence on the Gators' jump back into the top 5 in 2012?
Andy Hutchins: Depth as produced by conditioning. We've come to revere strength and conditioning coach Jeff Dillman around these parts, because he's given a Florida offensive line that was thin and porous in 2011 an eight-man rotation of capable players in 2012, and done similar things with a defensive line that is finally controlling the line of scrimmage.
2. The Gators have come from behind in wins against LSU, Tennessee, and Texas A&M so far this season. In those games, Florida has outscored their opponents 51-6 in the second half. What has been the driving force behind the team's late-game surges? Is it gameplanning, depth, conditioning, or something else?
AH: I think it's a combination of all of those things: Florida stopped rushing up the field against Johnny Manziel in College Station, started running the ball down Tennessee's throat in Knoxville, and abandoned the pass altogether against LSU. All of those adjustments were possible because Florida has coachable players with the brains to adjust and the stamina to execute a second half game plan.
3a. The Gator defense has been on fire lately, giving up just six points in their last two games and holding both LSU and Kentucky to under 225 yards of total offense. Who are the guys that can give a struggling Vanderbilt offensive line trouble on Saturday night?
AH: Sharrif Floyd
is Florida's best defensive player, and it's only
recently gotten close. He's a bear up front, capable as a run-stuffer
and a pass-rusher, and he's overdue for a game with stats to match his
menace. Matt Elam
had his finest game for Florida last Saturday, and
has grown into a devastating safety, especially in run support; he
hits and tackles soundly, and is the Gators' best big-play threat.
3b. Jordan Rodgers has been shaky in the confines of a relatively safe gameplan this season, but he's been solid when throwing to wideouts Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd. Despite not getting too much publicity, that pair may be the best receiving duo that the 'Dores have ever had. Are you confident that Florida's corners can handle Vandy's WR tandem in single coverage?
Not necessarily. Florida's secondary has eliminated most of the blown
coverages and bad penalties that plagued it in 2011, but Marcus
Roberson sort of gave up on the bomb Zach Mettenberger threw to Odell
Beckham last Saturday, and only got saved by Elam's incredible forced f
umble. Jaylen Watkins
is probably Florida's best corner at this
point, and I trust him, but he's just one guy. Safeties Elam and Josh
Evans are both solid.
4. Jeff Driskel seemed to be earning more passing plays as the season progressed until last week's win against LSU limited him to just 12 throws. Do you think he'll return to a 20+ pass attempt gameplan on Saturday, even with Vandy's strength in the secondary? How often do you think we'll see him run against the 'Dores?
AH: I would be surprised to see Driskel throw more than 25 times, but something between 16 and 24 sounds right. I expect Florida to try to pass to complement the run, but not to throw over the top of the Vandy secondary or find holes in it; Brent Pease has proven he can coordinate an offense just fine without taking the risk of a deep ball, and there's a chance (albeit a smallish one) that Florida would go into shutdown mode with a big lead to not deplete its arsenal of gimmickry before meeting South Carolina.
5. We know Mike Gillislee is going to hear his number called plenty of times in Nashville. Who else should the 'Dores be worried about on the Gator offense? Which low-key performer could be primed for a breakout game against Vanderbilt?
I would be worried about the offensive line almost as much as
Gillislee: it's rolling right now. But because none of those guys will
catch a pass or score, hopefully, I'll go with Jordan Reed
, who is
Florida's leading receiver and thus a low-key performer. You'll
remember him from 2010, when he 11-for-19 for 120 passing yards and a
touchdown and rolled up 84 rushing yards in the most bizarre day of
Florida's three-headed quarterback experiment, but his three catches
for 29 yards as a tight end in 2011 was the worst game of a four-game
stretch in which he had 16 catches for 213 yards. He's also caught
either three or five passes in each Florida game this year, so he
could "break out" by, I dunno, trying an even number?
6. Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday's game? And, if you're headed up to Nashville for the contest, say one nice thing about our tailgating. Go!
AH: I think Florida wins comfortably, by between 14 and 24 points, so let's call that 31-10. I'm not headed up to Nashville, sadly, but the first place I ever had fried pickles was Nashville and so I am forever in its debt.
Well, I can't say that I agree with the prediction, but Andy does make some excellent points here. For more on this week's matchup with the Gators, be sure to check out all of the fine, fine content over at Alligator Army.