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No. 21 Florida proves too much for Vanderbilt in 38-24 defeat

The Commodores fell apart in the second half after working the Gators early.

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

The Florida Gators were left with their backup quarterback Saturday -- but a rejuvenated running attack made sure Felipe Franks didn’t have to do much to lead his team to a victory.

The No. 21 Gators won the battle at the line of scrimmage to pull away from a game Vanderbilt squad in Gainesville, 38-24. Kyle Shurmur couldn’t capitalize on a solid first half until it was too late, leaving the Commodores without ammunition in a game that turned into a surprising shootout. The Vandy running game also struggled, as Ralph Webb’s last game in his hometown left him with just 29 yards on 11 carries.

Florida struck first, putting an end to a sloppy start with a 10-play, 62 yard drive capped by a Lamicel Perine one-yard touchdown drive. It turns out a little pressure what just what Shurmur needed to snap back into his early-season form. After throwing four straight incompletions to start the game, he settled into a rhythm despite an overbearing Gator pass rush. His 13-yard strike to Kalija Lipscomb capped off a 4-4, 56-yard performance that tied the game at seven-all.

Florida took advantage of a short field two drives later to reclaim the lead, but Shurmur, emboldened by OC Andy Ludwig’s play-action offense, continued to move the chains with deep passes downfield. A deep ball to Lipscomb put the ‘Dores in the red zone, and one play later Caleb Scott made his first reception of the season to make it 14-14.

A pair of field goals late in the second quarter kept the game knotted up at 17-all at halftime.

The teams exchanged punts to start the third quarter, but the momentum began to swing back behind the home team from there. Felipe Franks ground down the Commodore defense with an array of short passes, big runs, and a little bit of luck. A shady pass interference call and a tip-drill 33-yard reception helped Florida take a 31-17 lead early in the fourth quarter.

Shurmur broke a string of punts as time wound down in the fourth quarter, leading the ‘Dores 77 yards to pull Vanderbilt within 31-24 with 3:14 to play. Shurmur converted two huge fourth downs with passes to Scott and Trent Sherfield to give Vanderbilt hope in the swamp. His seven-yard strike to Nathan Marcus made this a one-possession game.

But Openshaw’s onside kick attempt fell into Florida’s hands, and a last gasp attempt from a gassed defense turned the Gators 4th-and-1 play into a 39-yard Malik Davis touchdown, effectively icing the Commodores.

Vanderbilt falls to 3-2 (0-2 in the SEC) with the loss. The Gators improve to 3-1 and 3-0 in league play. The Commodores will return to Dudley Field next week for a showdown with No. 7 Georgia. If they can’t address the issues that plagued their defense in Gainesville, the Bulldogs might run for 800 yards.