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Jeff Driskel bested Tim Tebow and set a Florida school record in leading the Gators to a 31-17 win over Vanderbilt. He kind of needed to, given how lackluster the Gators were for the rest of the night.
Florida defeated Vanderbilt, 31-17, on Saturday. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, our first look before a second viewing, comes first.
So Vanderbilt turned out to be a trap game that Florida won. Gee, that's weird.
How Florida Won
Jeff Driskel's 70-yard touchdown run. Driskel burst through a hole on a keeper and kept going to paydirt to put the Gators up 31-17 with three minutes to go, sealing the victory in the Music City.
Jeff Driskel's running. It's sort of unfair to compare Driskel after six games (well, 5.75 games) as a full-time starter to Tim Tebow, but this much appears to be true: Driskel is a faster, more dangerous runner, and far more capable of big, back-breaking runs like the 70-yard sprint that finished off the Commodores. Driskel's 37-yarder was almost as impressive, coming on a beautiful fake on a zone read out of the pistol, but the stat everyone's going to remember is 177 rushing yards, a new high for a Florida quarterback that eclipses what Tebow compiled against Ole Miss in 2007, a game that saw Tebow run the ball a staggering 27 times. Last night, Driskel had just 11 carries.
Florida's special teams play. The blocked field goal was huge, preserving a four-point lead at a moment when the Gators looked like they were going to need every point, and the only big play of Earl Okine's Florida career to this point. The fake punt was the sweetest fake the Gators have run since Urban Meyer left, an immaculate play design (essentially a zone read/jet sweep combo from a punt formation) wedded to excellent execution (Trey Burton held the ball just long enough, and the line zone blocked enough to give Solomon Patton room to run). The two-point conversion ultimately proved a little fruitless, because Florida scored a few more times after that, but it's an indication that there are tricks in the Gators' bag. But Andre Debose's 60-yard kick return, the one that basically guaranteed Florida would get points on a drive that came with the Gators up 21-14, was the most important special teams play of all, considering context, and proved that Debose still has some of the ability that has made him a threat to score whenever he touches the ball. I'd love for that return to be the turning point on his season, or his Florida career, but I'm not holding my breath.
Solomon Patton. He's the second-quickest and second-fastest receiver Florida has, but Patton has one catch, the 17-yard toe-tapper from Driskel's scramble drill throw against Tennessee, on the season. Instead of being utilized in the passing game, like receivers usually want to be, or being deployed as a returner, which would have made sense given his 24.0 yards-per-kick return and 28-yard punt return in his only try in 2011, Patton has played a new position: Sweeper. He gets just a few carries per game (11 total this season, no more than three in any contest), and his task is to fly across the face of the defense and try to find the corner. He's very good at it, and the 54-yard run tonight was his best play of the year. Praise should go to Brent Pease for finding this place for him, but Patton's an example of selfless fulfillment of a relatively thankless role.
"Man Down, Man Up." I roll my eyes at "man up" in general (I'll spare y'all the sociological mumbo-jumbo about why), but Florida's ability to sustain injuries and keep on keeping on was tested again on Saturday, and the Gators passed it. James Wilson didn't make the trip (with an "eye injury" that I'm skeptical about; what "eye injury" prevents a player from flying?), Dominique Easley didn't dress, Jelani Jenkins didn't start, and Jonotthan Harrison (elbow), Jordan Reed (eye), and Xavier Nixon (who knows, really) all left the game with injuries, though Reed would later return. Six of 22 starters missing, and three on the offensive line, and Florida still stuck to its gameplan and won. The Gators' depth isn't where Will Muschamp wants it to be (it should be substantially improved next year, and could get scary from there on out), but he has a much, much deeper team than he did in 2011, and not just because there has been less attrition this year.
Caleb Sturgis. He's not automatic, but he's close, and there's zero fear factor for his kicks. He made three on Saturday, cleaning up three stalled red zone possessions, and had he missed any one of them, things could have been a fair bit tighter at the end.
Turnover margin. Florida forced
two turnovers one turnover, and it came at an opportune time, allowing the Gators a chance to go up by 17 or 18 points. The second one that should have been got wiped out by a very dumb penalty, but it would have been a game-sealing pick by De'Ante Saunders. Florida recorded its fifth win in the turnover battle in 2012 on Saturday, and has yet to lose it; the Gators have also committed just four turnovers in 2012, an amazingly low number considering that they start a sophomore quarterback, have played three road games, and met LSU last week.
Mike Gillislee. Sabotaged though he was by an offensive line that lost its first-string left side, Gilly ran for 67 yards on the night on 17 carries, producing a very respectable 3.9 yards-per-carry clip. More impressive: For the second straight game, Gillislee did not lose yardage on any of his carries.
Josh Evans. The sack that came when Evans screamed into the backfield on a third down in the third quarter was important and impressive: Safeties don't all have that kind of closing speed or tackling ability, and Evans' angles, maligned for the entirety of 2011, have improved substantially this year. But the play that I liked best from Evans on the night was a tackle that saved a touchdown when Florida was up 21-7. Vandy scored on that drive, but Evans prevented a quick score that might have turned the fourth quarter into more of a shootout than it ended up being.
Florida ain't never scared. Florida could have folded in this game; some teams would have, given the closeness and the injuries and the 7-0 deficit early and trap game-ness of it all. It didn't: The Gators actually covered, and their sophomore quarterback put on a show for the record books while most of the offense around him failed to produce. At 3-0 away from Gainesville, these Gators are road warriors, and get to defend the Sunshine State for most of the rest of the season. That's going to be fun.
Both Good and Bad
Driskel's decision-making. Driskel is already better at making zone reads than Tebow was, and I don't think that's a controversial statement: Driskel was doing that in high school, while Tebow was just sort of bulling people over all the time, and Driskel has the speed to make correct reads into huge plays. Driskel also doesn't throw but one or two passes a game that could be intercepted, which is a must for a Muschamp QB. But he is driving many fans (and probably his coaches) nuts with his unwillingness to throw the ball away, and driving a smaller contingent of fans batty with his tendency to scramble at the first sign of pressure instead of stepping up. I'm willing to grant that Driskel is playing with a subpar group of receivers, and that his scrambling probably produces more holes than receivers do on their own, but Driskel scrambling means Driskel taking hits in the open field, and even though he's a burly dude, that's not what quarterbacks need to do.
The secondary. Matt Elam played decent coverage on Vandy's lone touchdown pass, but could have waited a second longer to jump and tipped the ball. Louchiez Purifoy got nailed with a penalty that negated a pick. Evans practically decapitated a receiver to prevent a completion. Marcus Roberson completed the Unholy Trinity of cornerback blunders on one play: He got burned, interfered with the receiver and was flagged, and pulled up in coverage. Jaylen Watkins' name was called all of once on the night, and so I'm guessing he eliminated his man when he was on the field, but this secondary is still error-prone. And yet, other than Jordan Matthews, who might play in the NFL, no Vandy receiver had more than one catch (tight end Steven Scheu had three), so Florida did some things right in the defensive backfield, and Roberson and Evans both recorded sacks on blitzes. Even when I want to hate this secondary, I can't.
Florida's linebackers. Jenkins being hurt is not ideal, and Antonio Morrison is a good replacement (he led Florida with eight tackles), but Jon Bostic has the tools to make five tackles and one strip sack an average night for him; it seemed like a big night, instead. Beyond Morrison and Bostic, you have to look a long way down to see the other three linebackers who recorded tackles (Darrin Kitchens, Michael Taylor, and Neiron Ball, who also recovered the fumble), though, and counting Lerentee McCray as an LB seems wrong to me at this point.
Jordan Reed. I know: Asking for improvement from a guy who apparently got his eye gouged is a bit much. But if Clay Burton's the second-string tight end, Florida needs production from its first-string tight end desperately. Reed had two catches, a season low, against the 'Dores, and just 14 receiving yards. At a minimum, I think he should be around three catches for 30 week after week.
Debose on punt returns. The kick return was fantastic, but Debose seems caught between trying to make positive plays and trying not to muff punts when he heads back for those returns. He's given up a lot of yardage in the aggregate by not being where punts land to fair catch them, at least, and Florida's offense can really use six or eight yards here or there.
Penalties. Florida had 10 for 81, and had some truly stupid ones. Purifoy's hold to wipe out the pick was the worst, but Roberson's PI after getting burnt was horrible; Florida got flagged for too many men on the field coming out of a time out for second and goal from the Vandy 1, and for a false start on first and 10 from the Vandy 13; Frankie Hammond's hold wiped out a touchdown, and Chaz Green false started on third and five. Maybe the most hilarious penalties came on Florida's first punt: Quinton Dunbar somehow false started on a damn punt, and when the punt did get off, Purifoy blasted the returner and got flagged for kick catch interference. That only led to Vandy's first touchdown. If Florida could magically wipe away all the penalties from last night's game, it would have been a 30-point win, probably.
Red zone performance. Florida ran 13 plays in the red zone; three went for more than one yard. Three of the four red zone trips featured at least one penalty. Florida fumbled at the Vandy 1 and somehow got the ball back. Gillislee had a touchdown wiped out by a penalty. Florida's best plays in the red zone were Driskel running in his second touchdown of the night and a Vandy pass interference. Sturgis' three field goals all came from less than 30 yards. This was only non-fatal because the other team was Vanderbilt.
Florida's wide receivers. Dunbar led all wideouts with 21 yards, accrued on one catch. Hammond had one catch, and Trey Burton, more WR than anything else at this point, had one catch and two drops of obvious first downs. Raphael Andrades had a catch, which is neat, but if Burton's a WR and Omarius Hines isn't, Florida wideouts combined for four catches for 36 yards; if Hines does count, it's five catches for 45 yards. I don't say things are unacceptable if they only pertain to quality of play, but the wide receiver production is deplorable, about as close to unacceptable as I'll get.
That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments all day.