Game Day Preview: What you need to know about Vanderbilt-Florida
The Vanderbilt Commodores will be on the road again to take on the Florida Gators in the Swamp. Last year, the Commodores lost 34-10. However, according to coach Derek Mason, the game would have been a “fist-fight” down to the fourth quarter if the Commodores protected the ball better.
Turnovers were an issue for his team then, and they are an even bigger problem now. Vanderbilt is a better team compared to last season when looking at its defense; however, Florida is a better team all-around.
The Gators have one more game until they’re the official top dogs of the SEC East, and with only one SEC loss, they’ll be ready to seal the deal in the Swamp on Saturday.
Here’s what else you need to know about Saturday’s game:
Vanderbilt Commodores (3-5, 1-3 SEC) at No. 10 Florida Gators (7-1, 5-1 SEC)
Kickoff: Saturday, Nov. 7, noon ET (ESPN)
Weather: 88 degrees, 10 percent chance of rain (Weather.com)
Line: Florida -21 (Bovada)
By the numbers
9 – Vanderbilt has nine players on its roster from Florida, and three of those Commodores are expected to start against the Gators. They include offensive tackle Will Holden, punter/kicker Tommy Openshaw, and running back Ralph Webb. Offensive tackle Blake Fromang, another Florida native, could make an appearance in the starting lineup against Florida as well.
2013 – The year Vanderbilt broke its 22-game losing streak in the series. Vanderbilt beat Florida in the Swamp 34-17 that year; the last time the Commodores beat the Gators was in 1988. Florida still has full control over the game series, since the Commodores are 3-19-1. Saturday will be the 49th time the teams have met.
1 – Vanderbilt has the top-ranked third-down defense in the SEC (25.2 percent conversion rate). The defense has improved drastically from last season under Mason’s leadership. They allow 18.5 points a game, which is 14.8 points fewer than 2014. Vanderbilt’s defense has even held eight opposing offenses below their season average in points this year.
Storylines to watch
Will Ralph Webb be of any assistance to Vanderbilt’s offense?
Webb is a dominant part of the Commodores offensive backfield as Vanderbilt’s leading rusher. This sophomore running back is key to an offense that struggles to complete passes. He’s also one of the SEC’s Top 10 running backs, so it’ll be interesting to see what kind of a role he plays against Florida when the quarterbacks need help.
Webb rushed for 99 yards with 26 carries against Houston although his team still took an embarrassing shutout. He’s ranked fourth in all-time rushing totals for sophomore Commodores and needs 185 yards to move into third place.
Can Vanderbilt’s defense make up for the shaky offense?
Mason’s defensive experience at Sanford has a lot to do with Vanderbilt’s improvement on that side of the ball. But defensive effort make no difference to a team that can’t put points on the board.
Inside linebacker Zach Cunningham is a defensive leader to watch out for against the Gators. He had two forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, and 2.5 tackles for loss out of nine total tackles against Houston.
Former Vanderbilt QB Josh Grady could see some playing time as a Florida Gator
The graduate student spent four years of his time in the SEC standing on the sideline for the Commodores, seeing action in only 11 games. He’s now a fifth-year veteran with a team he’s always longed to be a part of — the Gators.
He climbed to No. 2 on the depth chart in light of Will Grier’s suspension, and he’s excited to take on his former team. Before, nothing was better than beating the Gators in the Swamp, which is something he had the opportunity to do in 2013. Now, he’s back with a vengeance and prepared to take the field to beat his old team.
Florida finally has the chance to seal the SEC East
Florida leads the SEC East by two games, so all it takes is one more win to seal the deal. The Gators have made 10 appearances in the SEC championship game and have won it seven times. This is an opportunity for them to close out the SEC East at home in front of their homecoming crowd.
Prediction: Florida 27, Vanderbilt 10
The Florida Gators are No. 1 in the SEC this season in turnover margin at plus-13. The Vanderbilt Commodores on the other hand give up the most. This will definitely pose a problem for the Commodores throughout this game.
Vanderbilt-Florida will not be close; the Gators will fluster the Commodore offense from the moment both teams touch the field.