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Vanderbilt builds big lead, blows it; loses to Florida, 37-27

Today, in Tales of Commodore Football...

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

Today’s game between the Vanderbilt Commodores and the Florida Gators started inauspiciously. Vanderbilt took the opening kickoff, went three-and-out, and Florida proceeded to march right down the field. It had all the looks of a blowout loss from the jump.

Except then a weird thing happened. With Florida knocking on the door, the Gators’ Feleipe Franks threw a pass on 2nd and 1 at the Vanderbilt 5 that got tipped and then intercepted by Vanderbilt’s Joejuan Williams. (Williams initially appeared to take it 98 yards for a touchdown, but replay review overturned the call on the field.) On the next play, Vanderbilt got the ball to Ke’Shawn Vaughn, who promptly gave Vanderbilt some breathing room with a 43-yard run. Eight plays later, Kyle Shurmur found Jared Pinkney for a 1-yard touchdown pass that gave Vanderbilt a 7-0 lead. Game on. Florida moved the ball again on its next drive, but settled for a field goal.

And after that field goal, Shurmur, again following the directive to Get Vaughn The Damn Ball, found Vaughn on a screen pass. Vaughn took it seventy-five yards and Vanderbilt took a 14-3 lead. Later on, with Florida driving, Franks fumbled and, after the ball bounced backwards for about 35 yards, Vandy’s Dare Odeyingbo finally jumped onto the ball, giving the Commodores’ offense the ball in a great spot. Four plays later, Vanderbilt found the end zone again to make it 21-3.

Good day, right? Except the good times ended almost immediately. Florida took the ball 75 yards in 12 plays to cut the lead to 21-10, and then, after a Vanderbilt three-and-out, Dare Odeyingbo got leveled by Florida’s James Houston on a punt return. Tempers flared as Derek Mason, while checking on the injured player, had words with Florida’s coaching staff. Both Mason and Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham could be seen yelling, well, a word that will offend some people. Both teams were given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty, leading to the ejection of Florida’s star linebacker Vosean Joseph (who’d picked up a prior unsportsmanlike for putting a WWE move on a Vanderbilt player.)

But also, Ke’Shawn Vaughn — who had been so explosive for Vanderbilt on the first couple of scoring drives — left the game with an injury and would not return. But even after the late charge by the Gators to end the first half, Vanderbilt went into halftime with a 21-13 lead.

The offense without Vaughn, though, was completely ineffective. After forcing a three-and-out to open the second half, Vanderbilt started its first drive of the second half at its own 49 and quickly moved down the field — but the drive stalled and Ryley Guay missed a 25-yard field goal. The Commodores appeared to stop Florida’s ensuing drive, but Dan Mullen called a fake punt on 4th and 3 at his own 37, which resulted in an 18-yard run by punter Tommy Townsend, and Florida found paydirt three plays later when Franks found Van Jefferson for a 38-yard touchdown pass that cut Vanderbilt’s lead to 21-20. (The vivid contrast between the two coaching staffs came on Vanderbilt’s next drive, when the Commodores punted on 4th and 4 at the Florida 42 — which was downed at the Gators’ 5-yard line, but Florida would score anyway on a 95-yard touchdown drive.)

After another three-and-out, Vanderbilt briefly found life after Florida fumbled — again — but the Commodores’ offense couldn’t get into the end zone and settled for a field goal, making it 27-24. But Florida responded with a 9-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that appeared to put the game away as the Gators extended their lead to 34-24.

Vanderbilt put together a last-gasp drive, but settled on a 53-yard field goal — and then kicked it deep with under four minutes left. With a stop, Vanderbilt might have had some hope, but they didn’t get one, and Florida added on a field goal for a 37-27 win.

This drops Vanderbilt’s record to 3-4 and 0-3 in the SEC. And this is a horrible, horrible way to lose.