Florida rolled to their best offensive day of the season. But it came against the worst defense they will play this season.
The Gators defeated Vanderbilt 55-14, with two blocked punts, three long pass plays, and a long run by Mike Gillislee providing the punch. The win keeps Florida (6-3, 4-3) in the SEC East race, setting up next week's game against South Carolina as the SEC East championship game.
Numbers 55 and 480 yards of offense are nice round numbers, but only evidence that Florida did what was necessary to win. The Gators ran the ball as we expected, plowing 203 yards on 51 attempts. Five players got to run the ball, with Jordan Reed having 16 carries for 84 yards and a touchdown. Mike Gillislee picked up two scores, on nine carries for 57 yards.
Florida did open up the passing game, as it seemed as if there were open players on each passing down. John Brantley was not nearly as impressive as he could have been, throwing 11/18 for 157 and two touchdowns. To start the game, Brantley was sacked twice and overthrowing his receivers. Reed was impressive mainly with the game out of reach, throwing 11/19 for 130 yards, a touchdown and late interception. Reed's touchdown to Deonte Thompson was a 31-yard frozen rope, exactly the type of pass we have been waiting for Brantley to make.
Chris Rainey was the leading receiver, with four catches for 75 yards and a touchdown from Brantley. The Lakeland man also blocked two of Vanderbilt's punts, one which was returned for a touchdown and the other setting up a score. He has been superb the last two weeks, with the silver lining of his suspension being his fresh legs. Without Jeff Demps, Florida has been leading on Reed and Trey Burton, in addition to the now healthy Gillislee and Emmanuel Moody. Rainey is not getting significant rushes, but swinging him out of the backfield is a dimension to the offense no other player offers.
Florida's defense played like the cold blooded killers we know they can grow up to be. The Gators got consistent pressure on the Commodores, sacking Larry Smith and Jared Funk four times. Justin Trattou and Duke Lemmens each had a sack, and Sharrif Floyd was a monster eating up linemen and running backs. Florida allowed 110 yards, 47 on the ground.
But it wasn't all good times, as Florida's two blocked punts covered up some significant problems on special teams. UF had a punt and PAT blocked, while Janoris Jenkins' fear of the ball led to him backing away from an easily catchable ball, only to see it bounce off a Gator blocker. Jenkins cannot return punts, when Andre Debose and Rainey are around to return. On offense, UF came out flat, scoring only 7 points (off a 3-yard field due to a punt block) in the first quarter. UF still struggles with blitz pickups. Brantley, mean while, could start looking over his shoulder. He is still too wild, especially when compared to the missiles Reed was throwing. Brantley is still the starter, but it does raise the possibility of Reed seeing more time as Tebow Lite, with a more accurate arm.
Florida has won their last two games, after losing three consecutive games. But they will need a much more complete game to defeat South Carolina next week.