The Vanderbilt Commodores come to Gainesville this Homecoming weekend with a decades-long losing streak to Florida, and the same 4-4 record the Gators have. (Vandy, however, is 1-3 against the SEC; Florida's 3-3.) But the 'Dores have some players, to be certain. Will those talents be enough to help pull the upset?
WR Jordan Matthews
66 catches, 890 yards, five touchdowns
Matthews may be the best wide receiver in the SEC — yes, I know of the great ones at Texas A&M, LSU, and Alabama — and is almost definitely going to leave Vanderbilt as the conference's all-time leader in a few major receiving categories. He broke the SEC record for career receiving yardage in Vandy's loss to Texas A&M, and he's got 21 catches to go to break fellow Commodore Earl Bennett's all-time receptions mark.
Matthews has also wrecked Florida over the last two years. He had eight catches for 131 yards and a touchdown in 2012, and nine for 170 and a touchdown in 2011. Florida's corners are better than they were in those two years — they're the same players, just older, wiser, and better — but Matthews has improved, too.
The best strategy for shutting down any wide receiver is getting pressure on the quarterback, and Florida being able to fluster Vandy's Patton Robinette would probably do plenty to diminish Matthews. Failing that, rolling coverages over to Matthews wouldn't be a bad idea: Jonathan Krause (32 catches, 608 yards, three TDs) is a fine receiver in his own right, but he has less than half of numbers are
RB Jerron Seymour
94 carries, 479 yards, nine touchdowns
Vanderbilt's not a run-first offense — it's close to a 50-50 run-pass split, edging very slightly toward running the ball, but Vandy's been in position to close out games with the running game, which skews things — but it will need its running game to be successful to have any chance against Florida. Seymour, Vandy's leading rusher, is player most likely to have success. Built in the mold of former 'Dores star Zac Stacy at 5'7" (which, given tape, seems generous) and 200 pounds, Seymour moves like a brick with wheels.
He averages just over five yards per carry, has scored nine of Vandy's 23 rushing touchdowns (that number's tied for 21st nationally), and has 14 catches on the year, but he's not quite as fast as most 5'7" backs at the Division I level, and he was a non-factor in Vandy's last trip to The Swamp, rushing for six yards on five carries in 2011. (Seymour's a redshirt sophomore, having missed the 2012 season.) If Florida can bottle him up, Vandy can still turn to Wesley Tate and Brian Kimbrow, but Seymour's got more rushing yards than both of those backs combined.
QB Patton Robinette
28-for-48, 364 yards, one touchdown, three interceptions
All indications are that starter Austyn Carta-Samuels (129-for-197, 1,672 yards, 10 touchdowns, seven interceptions) will not be ready to go this weekend, which significantly diminishes Vandy's chances of pulling the upset — the dropoff from Carta-Samuels to Robinette is dramatic, or at least it certainly seemed so in Vandy's offensive struggles at Texas A&M.
A&M's defense is the worst in the SEC by a significant margin, despite holding Vandy to just 329 yards (the 'Dores average better than 400 per game on the year) and holding UTEP under 200 yards one week after. Robinette threw for 216 yards and a touchdown, but also threw two interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and completed just 15 of 28 passes. Vandy fell behind 28-0 in the game with 13:47 remaining in the second quarter, and forced a punt just once, but rallied back to 28-17 down ... then failed to score again until the fourth quarter, by which point A&M had stretched the lead to 49-17.
Vanderbilt had an incredible 15 non-kneeldown offensive drives against A&M, and just two of them covered more than 44 yards; five were three-and-outs. A&M's five turnovers, three of which came in Vandy territory, weren't even enough to keep the game close, and A&M built that 28-0 lead before getting any of Vandy's three turnovers. A&M stopped Vandy's running game (44 carries, 95 yards, including five sacks of Robinette), put the Commodores in a hole, and forced Robinette to try to throw and beat the Aggies. He couldn't.
Now, there's obviously a fairly good chance that Robinette will play better off a bye and with more game experience under his belt than he did against A&M — but even Florida's diminished defense is theoretically a lot better than the Aggies' flimsy unit.
DE Kyle Woestmann
30 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks
Blessed with a name straight out of George R. R. Martin's imagination and/or some old NFL Films production, Woestmann is Vandy's finest pass-rusher, and has been excellent this year, while Missouri abuser Walker May has been quiet.
This sack of Mike Glennon last year shows just how relentless Woestmann can be:
Florida's working with backups to backups at tackle at this point, so don't be surprised to hear Woestmann's name (or May's, in fact) on Saturday.
CB Andre Hal
29 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, 10 passes broken up
While Matthews is unequivocally Vanderbilt's best player, Hal is probably solidly in second on that list. His superb senior season is a testament to it: None of A&M's Mike Evans, Mississippi's Donte Moncrief, South Carolina's Damiere Byrd, Georgia's Chris Conley, or Missouri's L'Damian Washington, all among the SEC's top 15 players in receiving yardage per game, managed 100 yards against Vandy, and Hal was likely in coverage against all of those No. 1 receivers for most of the game's defensive snaps.
Of course, those players' teammates still occasionally got loose (South Carolina's Bruce Ellington had eight catches for 111 yards and a touchdown; A&M's Malcome Kennedy had a season-high eight catches for 83 yards), but that's less on Hal than it is on his teammates. And Vandy's secondary has a tendency to be boom or bust: It's allowed zero passing touchdowns in three games (Mississippi, Austin Peay, Georgia), but has allowed at least three passing touchdowns in three others (Missouri, South Carolina, Texas A&M).