The Gators bounced back from an embarrassing loss to Kentucky on Saturday with a 42-0 win over Vanderbilt.
The game was a tale of two halves, but the result was never really in doubt. The Gators took a 21-0 lead into the locker room despite another seemingly lackadaisical effort. However, something changed in the second half as the Gators came out and dominated the Commodores.
It was a much different performance from the Gators than we saw last week in Lexington, but it was not all sunshine and rainbows. Let's take a look at the good, the bad and the ugly.
The Good: Gators Handled Business
One of the most puzzling things about Dan Mullen’s tenure at Florida is why his teams have not been able to enforce their will on inferior opponents at times.
I wrote about this after last week’s loss to Kentucky, the bad losses are a concerning trend under Mullen.
While the Gators slogged through the first half, they were still leading 21-0 when all was said and done.
That is when we saw something fans have been begging for from Mullen after last week: Passion. Mullen lit into his quarterback Emory Jones as the team was walking to the locker room, clearly dissatisfied with his performance.
Mullen showed that frustration in his halftime interview, saying his message to his quarterbacks would be “play better” and that the defensive performance was “awful.”
Again, his team was up 21-0.
It was the exact kind of response you want to see from Mullen to the type of performance the Gators had in the first half, he was not satisfied. It makes you wonder where that guy was last weekend when his team was losing to Kentucky - remember, his smile after the loss while walking to meet Mark Stoops caused an uproar among the fanbase.
Whatever Mullen said worked as the Gators outgained Vanderbilt 264-87 in the second half and doubled their first-half total.
To see Mullen light a fire under his guys has to be very encouraging for Gator fans. Even more encouraging was what Mullen said after the game about his team’s attitude.
"I love the attitude of our team," Mullen said. "We've got to do a better job coaching some things up, get it cleaned up and make sure the exactness of what we want is being executed on gameday, but team certainly great attitude all week and I love the guys in that locker room and their mindset. It's our job as coaches to kind of make sure that the intensity level every snap of the game is where it needs to be at."
Fans have been asking for Mullen to take more accountability for his team's lack of effort and he did just that on Saturday.
While Saturday was encouraging, it only makes last weekend more perplexing. It seems like if the Gators played with the attitude they did in the second half every week, they would be able to put their issues with bad losses to rest.
The Bad: Quarterback Play as a Whole
It was another struggle through the air for Florida on Saturday. It is hard to say that when Emory Jones put up the best stat line of his career - 14/22 273 yards (12.4 Y/A), four touchdowns and one interception - but it comes out in the tape.
The first half was simply poor and it brought about the first real struggles we have seen from Anthony Richardson.
The freshman sensation threw a pick on the first play he was on the field, then led a three-and-out on the next series. Richardson was just 4/6 for 25 yards and the interception on the day.
Jones played better, but had struggles of his own. He led two touchdown drives out of the gates, but the offense stalled out until an interception gave the Gators good field position which led to a score.
The two QBs were just 9/16 for 120 yards in the first half, 83 of which came on two plays. Jones did finish the first half strong with a long completion to Nay'Quan Wright and a gorgeous touchdown to Trent Whittemore on the final drive.
Jones's second-half numbers looked good, but there was still a lot of inconsistency. He started with three straight touchdown drives, but threw a worse interception than Richardson's on the fourth drive.
Mullen sent Jones out for one more drive to right the wrong but it ended in a three-and-out.
Jones once again failed to assert himself despite putting up good numbers. The pressure on him may have really increased had Richardson put up a strong performance.
It may be time for Gator fans to accept that this is just who Jones is. He will not lose Florida any games, but he has yet to show the ability to win any on his own. And you have to consider the opponent when analyzing Jones' down moments on Saturday.
Jones will have to look much more consistent going forward if he wants to hold off Richardson for the starting job.
The Ugly: First Half Defense
I know this may sound weird considering they pitched a shutout, but this was not the prettiest shutout you have ever seen.
Vandy had a touchdown overturned right before the end of the half, and it is only thanks to two missed field goals that the Gators kept them off the board.
Vandy ran 80 plays on the Gators, 49 of which came in the first half. They were 5-11 in the first half on third down, threw for 148 yards, and had just 15 fewer total yards than the Gators.
I cannot say the Gators' defense had a bad day, but it was certainly ugly.
Vanderbilt failed to do anything with the plays they had, but the Gator defense was on the field for most of the first half.
They cleaned things up in the second half and put together a very good defensive effort, holding Vandy to just 87 yards of total offense.
There are still a lot of things to clean up for Florida. A better opponent would have made that a game in the first half with all those opportunities. They cannot be on the field that much for an extended period of time, and 14 first downs is way too many to allow in a half to Vanderbilt.
Mullen had pretty good reason to call their first-half performance on defense "awful" despite the shutout. They were not good enough and will have to be better against LSU next week to escape Death Valley with a win.
This goes back to the attitude Mullen showed on Saturday. The fact that he was not satisfied with a shutout and wants to see better effort from his defense should be very encouraging. That kind of mindset from Mullen is one of the only ways he can erase his issues with losing games that he has no business losing.
Even though it was ugly, the Gators dominated a team they were supposed to and got a much-needed victory. Fans should feel good about how they turned it on in the second half.
How much more of that aggression we see from the Gators going forward will go a long way in defining their season.
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