The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly From Florida Gators vs. Vanderbilt
Entering their seventh matchup of the season against the Vanderbilt Commodores, the Florida Gators held high expectations for how they would perform.
Playing against a bottom of the barrel Vanderbilt team that is yet to record a victory on the season, the consensus belief was that the Gators would roll to another resounding victory the way they had the week prior against Arkansas.
However, despite reigning victorious, many concerns arose from the Gators' contest with the Commodores. Concerns for inefficiencies that have been evident throughout the season were magnified when UF found themselves in a dogfight with the only winless team left in the SEC.
As a result, there is a fair share of good, bad, and ugly to navigate through the Gators' 21-point victory versus Vanderbilt.
The Good: Program history ninth-straight game with at least 35 points scored
Dating back to last season against Florida State in the Swamp, the Florida Gators offense under the tutelage of Dan Mullen and first-year offensive coordinator Brian Johnson has been among the elite in college football.
With a combined point total of 389 points dating back to that Sunshine State rivalry, the Gators have averaged a whopping 43.2 points per game.
Despite a slow start for UF that led to a three-point deficit at the close of the first quarter (which we’ll get to later on), Florida found momentum in the second half.
In correlation, they marched their way to their ninth consecutive game of 35 points or more.
With Kentucky, Tennessee, and LSU still remaining on the regular-season schedule for the Gators, the possibility of that streak extending is very likely; however, starting faster and playing to the self-proclaimed Gator standard rather than at the level of an opponent will need to be evident to accomplish that feat.
The Bad: Offense sputters early
Like in the first two matchups under head coach Dan Mullen, the Gators' offense got off to a slow start against the Commodores yesterday.
Falling behind 10 to 7 in the first quarter, Florida’s offense started to struggle after their first drive of the game, punting on two drives in a row that comprised of a combined six plays.
Playing down to possibly the worst opponent they still face all season, room for uneasiness begins to creep in as they show that the high powered machine can be halted.
Given that the Gators have produced one of the best offensive units in all of college football to this point in the year, a winless Vanderbilt team that ranked 88th in total defense going into the matchup having the ability to create early stops indicates trouble in the offensive paradise.
Finding a groove and crawling away from Vandy late in the second quarter, Florida would go on to post three touchdowns in the second half to tie their season-low of points scored at 38, with the other games being a victory at home against South Carolina in week two and their lone loss on the year against Texas A&M in College Station week three.
As a result of the UF offense's flat performance to start the contest, quarterback Kyle Trask failed to add a stellar performance to his Heisman campaign.
Adding 386 yards, 26 completions on 35 attempts, and 3 touchdowns to his season total, Trask succeeded in doing what needed to be done for the Gators to come out on top despite the early struggles.
However, given the early faltering, Trask failed to post at least four touchdowns for the first time this season, ending an impressive streak he had built over six weeks.
Next week, Florida's offense should look to stay hot on the gas pedal from start to finish. A goal that becomes much more attainable if star tight end Kyle Pitts can return to the lineup.
The Ugly: Defense
Ah yes, the story you’ve heard many times before when it comes to the 2020 Florida Gators.
Lack of communication. Lack of execution. And—most concerning—lack of direction.
Facing off against a Commodores offense led by a true freshman quarterback in Ken Seals, without their starting running back, and on the brink of collapse due to the lackluster season they have endured, Saturday was an opportunity for the Gators defense to make a statement.
That is not the way it went down.
406 yards and seventeen points later, the chance to make a statement and even adjust areas that the defense has struggled with this season has come and gone, leaving even more questions than before.
After starting the season with horrid outings against Ole Miss, South Carolina, and Texas A&M, many thought that the three points allowed for the starting defense against Missouri was a step in the right direction.
However, seeing Georgia the following week, Florida gave the Bulldogs opportunities to change the game's landscape throughout, but the Georgia offense was able to do so.
With Arkansas, the defense was hurt by big plays, allowing two touchdowns of over eighty yards and one of just over 40. Fast forward to yesterday in Nashville, and defensive coordinator, Todd Grantham’s unit, looks the way they did in week’s one and two.
The most concerning part is the fact that it’s the same game plan that teams use to exploit the Florida defense week in and week out. Lack of rotation of young talent in the backend and similar schematical philosophies are beating them.
Utilizing slants and underneath routes over the middle due to the excessive cushion by defensive backs inability for the linebacker group to be sustainable in help coverage, teams have torched a Gators secondary. A secondary that has had issues playing staying in a position that allows them to make plays in the ball and communicate effectively with teammates and coaches alike.
As the exploitation continued against even the lowly-Vanderbilt, Florida is in a position where — as we have said all season — the defense holds their destiny in their hands.
The issues facing Florida are too much to be fixed midseason, but a step in the right direction would include the utilization of the young and uber-talented athletes currently sitting on the bench.
When regular snaps have been given to the likes of Rashad Torrence II, Jaydon Hill, TreVez Johnson, and Ty'Ron Hopper, among others, the defense's production has been drastically better.
Sure, the oft-beneficial experience of the defense is lost if this is put into place; however, that hasn’t played a factor in aiding the unit so far this season. The best squads of college football field the talent that gives them an increased ability to win ball games, no matter what age or grade.
Right now, the seniority system is in full effect and the young guys who could produce a valuable spark to the defense are being overlooked in favor of those who have failed to earn their spots this season despite plenty of opportunities to do so.
While there are no fix-all answers to the unit's woes in-season, incorporating young talent in rotation as well as promoting healthy competition for starting spots is one direction that could be taken. Another would be adjusting the areas that have been continuously taken advantage of this season are great starts to not allowing any more Vanderbilt-esque performances.
The fate of the Gators season is held in the palms of the defense going forward. Without change, the championship-caliber offense Dan Mullen has pieced together could come to a disheartening halt with no hardware to show for their successes.