Gameday preview: What you need to know about Florida-Vanderbilt
The Jim McElwain era is just eight games old.
But the Gators already have a chance to clinch the SEC East title in McElwain’s ninth game at the helm. That was fast.
With a victory over Vanderbilt on Saturday, Florida will punch a ticket for the SEC championship game for the first time since 2009. How long has it been since the Gators made it to Atlanta? Tim Tebow was the quarterback and Urban Meyer was the head coach in 2009.
Here’s some stuff to get you ready for game day.
Vanderbilt (3-5, 1-3 SEC) at No. 10 Florida (7-1, 5-1 SEC), Saturday at noon (ESPN)
Weather: 84 degrees, 0 percent chance of rain
Line: Florida is favored to win by 21 points.
Numbers to know:
* The Gators rank second nationally with a plus-13 turnover margin this season. On the other side, Vanderbilt ranks 122nd nationally with a minus-11 turnover margin.
* When winning or tying the turnover battle, Florida has posted a 33-7 record since 2011. When losing the turnover battle, Florida is 3-15 since 2011.
* Opponents have totaled -7 return yards on Gators punter Johnny Townsend’s last 25 punts.
* Vanderbilt features the best third-down defense in the SEC and the fifth best third-down defense in the country. The Commodores have allowed opposing offenses to convert on 25 percent of their third downs.
* Vanderbilt has dropped its past eight matchups against teams ranked in the AP Top 25. The Commodores’ last victory over a ranked team came against Georgia on Oct. 5, 2013.
Story lines to watch:
* Atlanta bound?: Florida is just one conference win away from clinching the SEC East title. Will the Gators get that victory Saturday? They should. Florida enters as a three-touchdown favorite over Vanderbilt. The Commodores have won just one of their past 12 SEC games. If the Gators clinch the division title, it would punch a ticket to the SEC championship game for the first time since 2009. If Florida can win its final four games to finish the regular season with an 11-1 record, the conference championship will give the Gators the opportunity to get the win they need over a top-ranked opponent to likely make it into College Football Playoff. Will Muschamp couldn’t get to Atlanta in four seasons as Florida’s head coach. Jim McElwain is about to do it in his first year at the helm.
* The offensive line shuffle: This is nothing new this season, but the Gators offensive line will likely have to deal with some adversity against Vanderbilt. David Sharpe, who has started the first eight games of the season at left tackle, is doubtful for Saturday’s game with a foot injury. With Sharpe likely out of the picture this week, Fordham transfer Mason Halter is expected to slide from right tackle to left tackle in place of Sharpe. Freshman Fred Johnson, who played at Royal Palm Beach High, could fill in at right tackle for Halter in that scenario. Johnson has played in five games, but he has not started a game yet this season. It will be interesting to see how Florida’s makeshift offensive line fares against a Vanderbilt defense that ranks 23rd nationally in total defense.
* Kicking change?: During McElwain’s weekly radio show on Thursday night, he said walk-on Neil MacInnes could kick some field goals against Vanderbilt on Saturday. The Gators are willing to try anything to get some balls through the uprights. Starting kicker Austin Hardin has missed four consecutive field goals, including a 45-yarder against Georgia last week. The Gators have not made a field goal since Oct. 3 against Ole Miss. Will MacInnes be able to turn things around? Not sure, but it’s probably a chance Florida needs to take at this point. MacInnes, who’s a dental student, has not kicked a football in competition since making 48- and 43-yard field goals in a Hillsborough County all-star game at Raymond James Stadium in December 2011. “We’ll see how the dentist does,” McElwain said on his radio show. “I hope he drills it.”
My prediction: Florida 28, Vanderbilt 9.
Anthony’s season picks record: 6-2.