GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The time is finished for wallowing on the gut-punch stunner that Florida sustained at Tennessee.
The 38 straight points happened. The squandering of a 21-point second-quarter lead happened. The end of the Gators’ 11-game winning streak over the Vols, that happened too.
All No. 23-ranked Florida can do now is move forward, and it starts with a visit to Vanderbilt on Saturday in Nashville.
Gators coach Jim McElwain said he hadn’t seen his team react so emotionally to a loss during his time with the program as it did last weekend, and he hopes the players take some lessons from that.
Along with that, here are five storylines as the Gators (3-1, 1-1 SEC) prepare for the Commodores (2-2, 0-1).
1. Appleby or Del Rio?
McElwain said redshirt-sophomore quarterback Luke Del Rio is “highly doubtful” to return from his knee injury this week, meaning fifth-year senior Austin Appleby will likely make a second start for Florida.
Appleby was terrific in the first half last Saturday at Tennessee and not so effective in the second half. Overall, he finished 23-of-39 passing for 296 yards, 3 touchdowns and 1 interception.
A graduate transfer from Purdue in his final season of eligibility, Appleby wants to seize any opportunities he gets, but there’s no question Del Rio is itching to get back on the field.
And during his Monday news conference, McElwain wasn’t ready to officially rule Del Rio out for this game.
The Gators have had closed practices Monday and Tuesday, but McElwain should update the quarterback situation when he meets again with reporters on Wednesday.
2. More of the same?
Florida has won 24 of the last 25 meetings with Vanderbilt with the lone loss in that span coming in 2013 (a 34-17 defeat in Gainesville).
Times were a lot different for both programs then.
The Commodores were still riding the momentum of the James Franklin era and the Gators were bottoming out during the slide of the Will Muschamp era.
The SEC foes have since corrected to the norm with the Gators back in the national rankings and the Commodores again mired at the bottom of the conference.
So this would seem a prime opportunity for Florida to bounce back from that setback last weekend. And yet, just last year the Gators narrowly prevailed with a 9-7 win over Vanderbilt in Gainesville.
3. Offensive line woes
We’ve learned that McElwain has a tendency of being more critical of his players after a win so as to keep their egos in check, and more uplifting after a loss so as to maintain their confidence.
Well, the Florida offensive line was not very good during that second-half collapse at Tennessee as the run game grounded to a halt (19 rushing yards on 13 carries after halftime) and Appleby was routinely pressured as the pocket quickly closed in on him.
McElwain, though, has not been critical of the line this week, saying he doesn’t feel the unit deserves blame for the offensive’s struggles last weekend.
There’s always more than the naked eye can see when it comes to dissecting a football game. Did the quarterback make the right audibles and protection calls at the line of scrimmage, did other players miss assignments, etc.?
But regardless, the line has to play better than it has shown most of the season with exception to the blowout win over Kentucky.
Florida doesn’t know yet if sophomore right guard Tyler Jordan will return from an eye injury, but with or without him, the Gators need a better effort up front.
4. A motivated Gainesville native in Nashville
Vanderbilt’s best offensive player is redshirt-junior running back Ralph Webb, who just happens to be from Gainesville, Fla.
Webb has rushed for 474 yards and 5 touchdowns through four games and will no doubt be extra motivated for this game.
He has said before that he wanted to play for his hometown Gators and that he felt underrated in the recruiting process.
He had a 74-yard touchdown run against Florida last season for Vanderbilt’s only score in that game, and overall, he rushed for 1,152 yards in 2015 for the second-highest total in program history.
5. Something to prove for the Gators’ D
The Gators came into that game at Tennessee as the top-rated defense in the country in terms of fewest yards allowed.
They left humbled by that second-half implosion as the Vols struck for big play after big play against Florida’s vaunted secondary.
Several players noted communication breakdowns as a factor in those struggles. That can happen in the loud confines of Tennessee’s Neyland Stadium. The noise surely won’t be a problem at Vanderbilt, but the Gators will look to shore up any other issues this week in practice.
This is a prideful group. Expect the defense to come out looking to make a statement Saturday.