Florida vs. Vanderbilt: A trap game for the Gators?

Grant Halverson - Getty Images

What is a trap game? Why doesn't Florida seem to lose many of them? And could the Gators really face one at Vanderbilt?

As a Florida fan under the age of 24, I know two things with absolute certainty about Florida football:

  1. Florida will beat Kentucky every year.
  2. Florida will beat Vanderbilt every year.

The idea of the Gators losing to the Commodores isn't quite as absurd as the idea of Florida losing to Kentucky — Vandy has played Florida close a few times since 1988, the last 'Dores triumph in the series, hanging with Florida last year in Gainesville before losing by a 26-21 count, taking the Gators to double overtime in a 49-42 barn-burner in 2005, and giving the 1996 Gators their second-closest win by scoring 18 points in the second half to make the final score 28-21. Vanderbilt had Jay Cutler; Kentucky had Tim Couch. Vanderbilt has James Franklin; Kentucky has Joker Phillips. Vanderbilt's recent trend is upward; Kentucky has flat-lined since Andre' Woodson and his unnecessary apostrophe left Lexington.

So why are fans and writers trying to call this game a trap game for Florida, exactly?

I understand what a trap game is: In the conventional sense, it's a game before or after a bigger one, one that could find a favored team sleepwalking early thanks to a hangover (usually after a win) or overlooking an underwhelming foe with a leviathan on the horizon. For Florida, this game is both: Vanderbilt just isn't as formidable as just-vanquished LSU, and certainly pales in comparison to future foe South Carolina.

But Florida doesn't lose those games very often, not since the days of Ron Zook. Let's check the history:

  • 2011: Florida was not actually demonstrably better than any team on its post-September schedule, and lost to Alabama, LSU, Auburn, Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida State. There wasn't a cupcake among them.
  • 2010: Florida's only trap game was probably Mississippi State, one week after a loss to LSU and two weeks before seeing Georgia, but Florida seemed less trapped and more thrashed by the end of the game. Also, Florida was maybe not actually better than Mississippi State.
  • 2009: Trap games abounded, coming virtually every week for the best team in the country, but Florida dropped none of them, only coming close against Mississippi State (after LSU) and Arkansas (before Georgia). (I hate when Florida plays Mississippi State.)
  • 2008: The last true trap game loss for Florida, the 31-30 defeat at home against Ole Miss, came one week after Florida throttled Tennessee for a 30-6 win.
  • 2007: Florida lost to a good Auburn team (it finished 9-4) a week before heading to LSU to take on the No. 1 Tigers, so that's a "trap game," I guess, but the difference between 2007 Florida and 2007 Auburn wasn't a significant one.
  • 2006: The loss to Auburn at Jordan-Hare came after a win over LSU and before the bye before Georgia, but that was unquestionably a good Auburn team, and Auburn is really never a trap game in a sense beyond AUBURN IS ALWAYS A TRAP GAME FOR FLORIDA, which doesn't count in a more holistic analysis.
  • 2005: Florida's losses came to No. 15 Alabama, No. 10 LSU, and unranked South Carolina; the Carolina loss was a road game and one week before the Florida State game. It was also broadcast on Jefferson Pilot. I think we can call that a trap game.
  • 2004: Florida's only loss to an unranked team came to a 1-5 Mississippi State team coached by Sylvester Croom one week before seeing Georgia. Croom's Bulldogs would finish the season 3-8 and only beat Tulane, Florida, and Kentucky on the season. At least Zook got fired for that horrific loss.
  • 2003: Losing to an Ole Miss team that had Eli Manning and absolutely no one else anyone remembers (there were three other NFL Draft picks on that team, and there's no way you're guessing any of 'em without Wikipedia) one week before LSU? Trap game goin' ham...
  • 2002: ...especially because FLORIDA HAD LOST TO MISSISSIPPI THE YEAR BEFORE, one week before the LSU game.

Basically, Florida doesn't lose trap games when Florida is not coached by Ron Zook.

I think the Gators' consistency under Will Muschamp, especially this season, is another good sign. Florida was what it was throughout 2011, for better or for worse, and it appears to be the same thing in 2012, for better: The Gators run the ball, gum up the opposing offense, stay in games even when they face early deficits, and eventually prevail. Even if the early jitters associated with trap games happen for Florida on Saturday against Vanderbilt, Muschamp's formula is part of the Gators' DNA at this point.

If you want to worry about Florida breaking its streak against Vanderbilt, or coughing up a loss in a trap game, be my guest. I have enough faith that Florida's coaches and players are worried about to spend some time worrying about other things.

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