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Vanderbilt Offense, Special Teams Waste Supreme Defensive Effort in 9-7 Loss to #10 Florida

Vanderbilt forced four turnovers and kept #10 Florida out of the end zone for three quarters, but their struggling offense failed to capitalize on opportunities in a 9-7 loss.

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Vanderbilt defense showed why they are one of the best units in the NCAA, but it wasn't enough. The Vanderbilt offense gained only 177 yards - 74 of those on one play - in a 9-7 loss to No. 10 Florida.

Ralph Webb's 74-yard touchdown run gave the Commodores the lead for the better part of two quarters, but the team's otherwise impotent offense couldn't take advantage of four Florida turnovers in the loss. Johnny McCrary played the whole game at quarterback and made some plays with his legs, but the sophomore completed only three of his 14 passes and gained just 31 yards through the air.

Things started sour for the Commodores. Brandon Powell took the opening kickoff 71-yards to set the Gators up at the Vandy 23-yard line. Jordan Scarlett took the ensuing play 20 yards to the Commodore 3, but a huge defensive stand forced a turnover on downs and kept this game scoreless early on. The 'Dores couldn't capitalize on that momentum, however, and a 27-yard punt return set the Gators up for a Kelvin Taylor touchdown that made it 6-0. Neil MacInnes pointed out just how dire Florida's kicking situation was by pulling his extra point attempt to the left pylon seconds later.

Vanderbilt's offense failed to sustain any semblance of success, but an opportunistic defense kept UF off the scoreboard throughout the first half. The Gators executed the most obvious fake field goal in NCAA history when they lined up for a 40-yarder with a kicked that couldn't connect from 20, but Cece Jefferson's seven-yard run ended with a fumble that Caleb Azubike jumped on to end the Florida threat. Vandy would extinguish another Gator drive when Treon Harris's 19-yard scramble on third-and-13 ended with a Landon Stokes strip and a Zach Cunningham recovery.

That momentum continued when Ryan White picked off a Harris floater on fourth-and-one to set the 'Dores up at their own 26-yard line. One play later, Ralph Webb decided that seven quarters without a VU touchdown was enough when he broke free for a 74-yard touchdown. Tommy Openshaw's extra point put the visitors up 7-6 at halftime.

The Vandy defense stayed strong throughout the third quarter as the two teams exchanged punts in a scoreless frame. The Gators ran nine plays in the third and gained a total of -23 yards as the 'Dores kept crowd of more than 90,000 fans at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium quiet.

Florida swung the momentum back in their favor with a 57-yard drive that put the ball at the Vandy 19, but the Commodores swarmed to a swing pass on 2nd-and-10. Jay Woods pried the ball away from Demarcus Robinson and Cunningham recovered to squash their scoring opportunity. A clutch 12-yard run from McCrary on third-and-11 helped the visitors burn 5:22 off the clock, but an Openshaw 12-yard punt gave the Gators the ball at the VU 45 with 5:37 remaining in the game.

That's all Florida needed to drive 20 yards into field goal range. Embattled kicker Austin Hardin had only made three of his seven attempts this season, but his 43-yard attempt split the uprights to give the Gators a 9-7 lead with 2:22 left.

Vanderbilt ran an ineffective two-minute drill, but Florida did their best to bail the Commodores out. A fourth-down defensive holding penalty gave them new life, and then a targeting call negated a Jordan Sherit sack and moved the 'Dores to their own 38-yard line. A sack and a false start pushed the team to 4th-and-25, and McCrary's longest pass of the day - 22 yards to Sam Dobbs - wasn't enough to keep this team's upset bid alive.

Vanderbilt fell to 3-6 overall and 1-5 in SEC play with the loss. Florida clinched the SEC East with the win and improved to 8-1 and 6-1 against conference foes. Vandy will return to action next week when they host Kentucky at Dudley Field.