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Better Know an SEC Opponent: the Florida Gators

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A pungent cloud permeates Dudley Field. It smells familiar. Smells like missed child support payments and denim recently used to filter cheap vodka.

NCAA Football: Florida at Tennessee Randy Sartin-USA TODAY Sports

The School: The University of Florida

Record: 3-1 (1-1 in the SEC). Florida was 10-4 in 2015, which entitled them the opportunity to stumble ass-backward into the SEC title game. The Gators were surprisingly useful in that matchup before Michigan shot a snuff film on them in a 41-7 Citrus Bowl win.

Florida should be 4-0, but somehow lost to a Tennessee team that struggled against Appalachian State and Ohio despite an early 21-0 lead. Since the university’s entire existence seems to be based on making Vanderbilt fans sad, expect UF to do the same thing to Vandy on Saturday, only in reverse.

Ranking: No. 23 in the AP Top 25 and No. 21 in the Coaches' Poll. The formulas have UF rated 21st in the Real Time RPI and 24th in Warren Nolan’s power index. Take that last one with a grain of salt, as Nolan has a Navy team who beat UConn and Tulane by a combined 11 points at No. 14 and Wake Forest at No. 10.

Mascot: Albert E. Gator and Alberta Gator.

NCAA Football: Kentucky at Florida Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

I don’t see any rings. Are they brother and sister, or just living in sin? This is Florida, so the answer can be both.

Location: Gainesville, FL. 2014’s number one in partying, No. 1,513 in HPV awareness.

Coach: Jim McElwain. No one is sure if he’s actually any good yet, but at least he figured out Kentucky this season.

Wikipedia says he was roommates with Colin Cowherd in college, so we know his tolerance for nonsensical bullshit is extremely high. Maybe Florida was his destiny after all.

Conference: SEC. We only keep them around for the women’s gymnastic titles, though.

All-time vs. Vanderbilt: 37-10-2. Vandy hasn’t beaten Florida in back to back seasons since 1960. It’s only had two chances to since 1983.

In the Last 20 Years vs. Vanderbilt: 1-19. The one in that stat is the reason why Will Muschamp is getting thrown out of games in Columbia rather than Gainesville these days.

The Last Time We Saw These Guys: Two legends were made: the epic Vanderbilt defense and tragic Florida special teams. The Gators trailed 7-6 with 2:30 to play thanks to a stout defensive effort that held UF to just three of 13 third down conversions and a missed extra point. Vandy, on the other hand, gained 175 total yards on the day, 74 of which came on a Ralph Webb run where the umpire gave him an unlikely assist.

Unfortunately, Florida’s special teams problems cleared up in time to hit a 43-yard field goal (after a 12-yard Tommy Openshaw punt gave UF the ball in Vandy territory), thus requiring the Commmodores to turn to Johnny McCrary for a last-gasp two-minute drill. Since the Gators don’t play in Conference-USA, it failed horribly (six total yards in eight plays, made possible only by Florida penalties).

Do They Run the Triple Option?: Maybe. They don’t exactly have a stable quarterback situation, so you never know. Unlike last year, they have a kicker, though, so don’t expect any upset wins hinging on missed extra point

Is Vandy Favored?: Nope. They are 9.5-point underdogs against Florida. For reference, Western Kentucky was a 7.5-point favorite, so it’s not like the betting public has a ton of confidence in the Gators this year.

Most Potent Offensive Threat: Vanderbilt’s pass defense has been creased by Middle Tennessee, Western Kentucky, and (shudder) Georgia Tech, so expect Antonio Callaway to have a big game no matter who (Austin Appleby, Luke Del Rio, the world’s largest Furby) is throwing him the ball. Through three games, he’s caught 17 passes for 335 yards (nearly 20 yards per catch). Given all the space Vandy has given opponents this season, expect him to have enough time to catch the ball near the sideline, pull a rope out of his pants, and then one-man double-dutch his way to the end zone.

Most Potent Defensive Threat: Bryan Cox had a career-high eight tackles against Vandy last season. Also, he’s the son of former NFL walking-personal-foul Bryan Cox, so don’t be surprised if he celebrates a sack on Saturday by ripping out Kyle Shurmur’s spine and trying to floss with it.

Idiot. Those vertebrae are never going to fit between your teeth.

Idiot.

Matchup to Watch: The Vanderbilt offense line vs. consistency. When Shurmur needed time in the pocket the most, the embattled Vandy line gave it to him. The Commodore blockers were on point last week, particularly while:

  • giving Ralph Webb the space to Superman his way to the end zone as time expired, and

  • creating lanes with wide blocks to give Shurmur all the vision he needed to score overtime’s first touchdown on a five-yard strike to Nathan Marcus.

Now they need to do it again, just for a full game. Against a solid SEC defense. That’s a much bigger task, but the team’s big guys sealed off the lanes they needed when this team needed them the most. The team ran for just 2.6 yards per carry that game, and that needs to improve, but the pass protection helped build Shurmur’s biggest performance as a college QB. More of that, please.

Interesting Fact: Gainesville was named the nation’s top college town in 2014, an index solely tied to the local exchange rates for Natural Ice.

If Florida wins, we: take a long look at Vanderbilt. The Commodore offense took a step forward last week; the defense did not. They can lose on Saturday without it being a catastrophe, but they’ll need to prove last week’s flashes of competence weren’t just this team’s annual tease that prevents die hard fans from giving up football altogether. After last year’s debacle, Vanderbilt needs to demonstrate offensive growth. Otherwise, the reasons for keeping Derek Mason may just run out.