As fun as it’s been to make fun of Florida’s occasionally-unwatchable offense, Vanderbilt may not be in position to throw stones. In two games against ranked opponents, the Commodores have scored just 14 total points. They’ve run for just 105 yards on 48 carries over that span, turning the program’s most prolific running back into a scout-team talent.
On Saturday, they’ll face a Gator defense that should be more malleable than either Alabama’s or Kansas State’s. The big question is whether the team can capitalize on that matchup in a hostile environment.
Vanderbilt has plenty to prove after a 59-0 stomping even Barry Switzer would have found excessive. The Commodores barely moved the ball against Alabama, and their attempt to make three-and-out drives a time-honored tradition helped to break a dishearted defense in a game we’ll never speak of again. Can Vandy use that humiliation as fuel to beat a rival who has historically owned them on their home turf? Or will a loss Saturday cast doubt on a season that started with so much promise?
Christian D’Andrea: Saturday’s matchup is an extremely important one for the ‘Dores. A win keeps a potential 10-win season in the realm of possibility. A loss drastically lowers their ceiling — though last year’s late-season surge proves this team understands being defined by September should only apply to Earth, Wind, and Fire.
Vanderbilt’s offense has ducked back into its shell, taking Kyle Shurmur from FBS legend to Alabama punching bag in a span of four weeks. The junior quarterback had little time to throw against the Tide and saw all his targets draped in crimson when he looked downfield. He’ll have an easier path to success Saturday; Florida has a middling passing defense (allowing 7.6 yards per pass this fall. Vandy, conversely, has allowed 4.4) but a solid pass rush that’s recorded 10 sacks in three games.
That means, once again, Vanderbilt’s offensive success will all come down to how well Shurmur’s blockers can protect him. No, that’s not great — and it suggests another low-scoring affair for the ‘Dores.
Meanwhile, Luke Del Rio, fresh off rallying the Gators to a comeback win over Kentucky, will have to face a Vanderbilt lineup that still ranks second in the nation in passing defense, even after getting salted by Bama. It took his team nearly 115 minutes for the offense to score its first touchdown of the season. While last week’s win over the Wildcats is encouraging, it’s premature to suggest they’re out of the woods.
In the end, Vandy will find a way to avoid giving up a defensive or special teams touchdown and grind out an ugly, narrow victory.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 20, Florida 16
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: South Carolina (+11) over TEXAS A&M. This seems like an awkwardly high line for an Aggie team whose best win is against an Arkansas program coached by a sentient chicken pot pie. The Gamecocks aren’t great, but I think they’ll keep this one within single digits, at the very least.
Tom Stephenson: All right, look, last week was hideous. But we were also playing what basically amounted to an NFL team, so while we’re definitely eliminated from the AFC South race, the SEC East is still within our grasp.
The main thing to know is that Florida doesn’t have an offense. Florida’s offense has scored six touchdowns in three games, with two of those coming because Kentucky literally didn’t bother to cover a receiver, and another coming when Butch Jones unaccountably failed to send anybody into the end zone on an obvious Hail Mary. Also, during the offseason, Florida’s players apparently decided to commit some good ol’ fashioned credit card fraud, landing nine of them (including WR Antonio Callaway and RB Jordan Scarlett) with felony charges that are still pending. Oh yeah, and they just benched promising redshirt freshman QB Feleipe Franks so that they can start Luke Del Rio again, for no apparent reason.
The last two years, Florida has beaten Vanderbilt by scores of 9-7 and 13-6, and given the Gators’ ongoing offensive issues I wouldn’t expect them to score many points against Vanderbilt’s defense. That should give an opening if Kyle Shurmur can regain the mojo he showed in the team’s first three games. I mean, if the high school team we sent out there to play Alabama shows up again, we’re losing, but I think this is a game we can win.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 10, Florida 3.
The SEC Upset Pick of the Week: New Mexico State (+17) over ARKANSAS. Hey, look, I don’t see any really good upset picks this week so let’s just go for the gusto and say ol’ Bert figures out a way to blow a game against a New Mexico State team that’s way less cupcake-y than normal.
VandyTigerPhD: Yep, we looked bad against noted NFL team Alabama. You know how every year there’s that stupid debate “can the #1 team beat the worst NFL team”? Yeah, that question has generally been hilariously stupid because as amazing as Alabama is, not all of them will be NFL starters. Nor do they have the depth or size of NFL teams. This year, however, I look at my New York Jets and think to myself, “you know what, this year’s Bama may actually have a chance against a team who’s offense is lead by a guy that even the Browns thought was too terrible for them.”
In any case we lost badly but we lost badly to a team that is going to stop pretty much everyone in the conference. Oh well. It’s sick, but we may still be the best team in the East.
The good news is Florida’s offense is very bad. Tom covered why, but seriously go back and watch that UT-UF game. It was unwatchable if not for the fact that as Commodores fans we seek joy out of the suffering of two long time SECeast bullies. We’ve kept both the last two games against the McElwain Gators very close. They’re worse, we’re better.
It’ll come down to defense, and I say we have a better one.
The Pick: Vanderbilt 14 - Florida 6.
SEC Upset Pick Of the Week: As the commentariat will no longer let me pick “covers the spread” as an upset, the only picks that make any sense for SEC upsets is our game and Aggie-Carolina. So I’m stuck with agreeing with CDA that Carolina is going to defeat the very bad Aggies.