Is Johnny McCrary for real? We'll find out when he takes on his second SEC opponent of the year this Saturday. The redshirt freshman quarterback is the only Commodore QB to sport a winning record through games in which he's taken the bulk of the snaps (2-1). However, those two wins came against Charleston Southern and Old Dominion.
Tomorrow, he'll face a Florida team that has fluctuated between "trainwreck" and "tremendous" throughout the season. The Gators are coming off a blowout win over #11 Georgia, but they've also suffered decisive losses to Alabama and Missouri and endured sloppy, too-close victories over Kentucky and Tennessee. Will Muschamp's team seems content to play to the level of their opponents most of the time, leaving a potential Vandy victory more likely than a 14-point spread would indicate.
Even so, a 3-6 Vandy team is facing long odds on Saturday. The Commodores looked strong in last week's outing but their 42-point explosion came against one of the worst defensive teams in the FBS subdivision. More tellingly, the 'Dores made several mistakes that Old Dominion failed to capitalize on, creating opportunities that a much stronger Gator team won't hesitate to turn into points.
That win was a big moment for a team that's had few reasons to celebrate in 2014. It will have to be a turning point if they want to celebrate once again this fall. Can Vanderbilt pull off the upset at home? Let's take a closer look.
Christian D'Andrea: McCrary and tailback Ralph Webb gave us every reason to be excited for the next three years last week...but that was against an Old Dominion defense that's currently 123rd out of 124 teams when it comes to points allowed. Things like tackling, blitzing, and turning-your-head-before-a-pass-hits-you-in-the-ass were not priorities for the Monarchs last week. Florida will be much, much better, no matter how badly they might play.
However, last week's game was a huge confidence booster for a team that has given us few reasons to be optimistic in 2014. Vanderbilt's receivers showed that they can track down the ball once McCrary gets it in their general vicinity. The offensive line may enough progress to suggest that they'll be able to keep opponents away from Webb while he's still in the backfield. Having either player produce even 75 percent of what they did against ODU would give the Commodores a major opportunity to pull off an upset on Saturday.
Unfortunately, Florida isn't slightly better than the Monarchs - they are immensely better. Getting a replication of last week's results will take a tremendous effort against a team stocked with four- and five-star talent rather than ODU's cache of two- and three-star athletes. McCrary won't have nearly the amount of time in the pocket that he did last weekend. Underthrown and off-target passes won't be miraculously grabbed by quick-thinking receivers; they'll be turned into drive-ending turnovers.
McCrary will have to get over those growing pains quickly, but he showed that he can learn on the fly by lighting up the Monarchs. If Webb can find the space to back the Gator defense off him just a tad, I think he'll find the space to make an up-and-down Florida team pay. Hell, give me the upset on this one.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 23, Florida 21
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: See above.