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Vanderbilt turtles up, wastes opportunities in 13-6 loss to No. 23 Florida

Vandy didn’t just lose the game -- it may have left starting quarterback Kyle Shurmur as well.

NCAA Football: Florida at Vanderbilt Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt had several chances to reverse its fortunes against a Florida team that has owned the rivalry between the two SEC programs. The Commodores wasted almost all of them in a 13-6 loss Saturday.

The Commodores’ timidity and inability to find the end zone proved fatal on Saturday, as the Gators escaped Nashville with an unimpressive win. While Ralph Webb and the defense came to play, Vandy’s offensive deficiencies proved too much to overcome.

Make no mistake, this game started ugly:


The two teams exchanged punts and bad passes throughout the first quarter and a half before a handful of Vanderbilt miscues handed the Gators a 7-0 lead. Shoddy offensive line play helped pin the Commodores deep in their own territory, and only a 48-yard Sam Loy punt put Florida on the its own side of the 50-yard line. Jordan Scarlett dragged his offense to the VU 18, but the drive was in danger of stalling out after failing to gain any yards on the two plays that followed.

Then, Landon Stokes got caught playing with his heart rather than his head. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty took the pressure off an anemic Gator passing game and gave the team a first-and-goal opportunity. Two plays later, Scarlett dove into the end zone to give Florida a 7-0 lead.

The Commodores responded with a deliberate 12-play, 56-yard drive capped by a Tommy Openshaw 38-yard field goal. Florida fought right back, covering 40 yards in its two-minute drill and pushing the lead back to seven points behind a 42-yard kick from Eddy Pineiro as time expired.

The second half followed the blueprint of the first, as the two teams exchanged punts before Vanderbilt found its rhythm behind the 1-2 punch of Ralph Webb and Khari Blasingame. The two combined for 71 yards to push the ‘Dores deep in the UF red zone, but the team couldn’t find paydirt. Instead, a 26-yard Openshaw field goal cut the Florida lead to 10-6.

Vandy had an opportunity to take an even bigger chunk out of that lead at the start of the fourth quarter when Webb and Kalija Lipscomb helped move the Commodores to midfield. Instead, the team’s momentum stalled out after Kyle Shurmur was tripped up behind the line of scrimmage on third and long. That delivered the ball back to the Gators, who used a hurry-up offense and a steady dose of Scarlett to set up a 26-yard field goal and retake a seven-point lead.

But if Vanderbilt was going to make a comeback, it would have to happen without Shurmur. The sophomore quarterback left the game after taking a low hit in the backfield and was replaced by Wade Freebeck. Freebeck completed his first pass, then handed the ball off on third-and-six in a play that had some alumni second guessing the team’s play calling.

Loy dropped the snap on the ensuing punt to give Florida the ball in the Vandy red zone. The Gators only needed to not go backwards or turn the ball over to effectively ice this game. Instead:

The botched snap gave Vanderbilt the ball at its own seven, trailing 13-6 with 2:56 remaining. Freebeck went to work, first completing a third-and-eight pass to Kalija Lipscomb for 18 yards, then hitting C.J. Duncan for 14 more to move the ball to the VU 40. The next three plays stalled out, but the offense had an opportunity to keep the drive alive on fourth-and-seven...

until the Commodores sent the punt unit out to the field. Mason’s strategy, bold in its lack of aggressiveness, seemed to pay off when the Gators went three-and-out on the ensuing drive. That put the ball back in Freebeck’s hands at the VU 23 with just over a minute to play.

But then Freebeck’s first pass of the drive was intercepted downfield by Nick Washington.

Webb finished the game with 110 rushing yards on 24 carries. That effort was enough to move him into second place all-time in the program’s record book.

Vanderbilt fell to 2-3 (0-2 SEC) with the loss. Florida improved to 4-1 (2-1) with the road win. The Commodores will return to the field next Saturday when they travel to Lexington for an SEC East showdown with Kentucky.