2012 season: 9-4 (5-3 SEC)
Coach: James Franklin, third season (15-11)
Last result vs. Florida: Florida 31, Vanderbilt 17 (2012)
Series record vs. Florida: Florida, 35-9-2
Game date: Saturday, November 9, 2013
Game location: Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Gainesville, FL
Who Are You?
The 2012 Vanderbilt Commodores could have easily been 11-1. Really.
Forget the Georgia game, because nothing could have possibly changed the way the Bulldogs thumped the 'Dores 48-3. But they were in the South Carolina, Northwestern and Florida games, their other three losses in a fantastic 9-4 campaign, until the very end. And the Commodores have effectively been replaced by Tennessee as Kentucky's eternal partner in the SEC cellar over the course of James Franklin's tenure as head coach. That's testament to how good Franklin's reboot has been.
In my Arkansas game preview, I stated that the Razorbacks were probably Florida's biggest trap game. I still hold that opinion, but that doesn't mean Vanderbilt is a walk in the park by any means. Let's leave it at this: If the Gators screw around — if they turn it over several times, commit stupid and/or untimely penalties, or bust coverages and miss assignments — they will lose. It's that simple.
And how many times have we been able to say that about Vanderbilt, a team that hasn't beaten Florida since 1988?
The offense will take a step back from last season, with QB Jordan Rodgers and top running back Zac Stacy gone, but it's still better than anything Vanderbilt ever had before James Franklin got there.
Rodgers will likely be replaced by Wyoming transfer Austyn Carta-Samuels, who has potential but is rusty; Stacy's void will be filled by Brian Kimbrow and Wesley Tate, who both did well as Stacy's backup. The passing game could again be a strength, with Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews both returning, and the offensive line appears to be as strong as ever. If Wesley Johnson and Co. can provide decent blocking, Vanderbilt could have the most underrated offense in the SEC.
Vanderbilt Offensive Strategy
The Commodores will use a balanced attack. Franklin probably won't trust Carta-Samuels to do too much in his first year, so he'll be relied on to hand the ball off a lot and make a few big plays a game. Expect to see Carta-Samuels lead a slow, methodical offense that doesn't go for too much but that keeps the clock rolling, the ball moving, and the Gators defense on the field for long periods of time.
Of course, Matthews and Boyd are one of the best receiving tandems in the country, so look for Carta-Samuels to take a deep shot here and there to try to catch Florida's secondary napping, perhaps out of play-action if the running game gets going, but the majority of the plays will attempt to gain somewhere between four and twelve yards.
Florida Defensive Strategy
The Gators have to stop the run and put pressure on Carta-Samuels. We know Will Muschamp always deploys a tough defense, but this year, and especially in this game, they have to force turnovers to prevent their offense from being sidelined as long as Franklin wants. Vandy does have a good offensive line, but Muschamp is going to really test them and see if they can handle Ronald Powell, Dante Fowler, Antonio Morrison and Dominique Easley coming at them from all sorts of angles.
Muschamp might try to confuse Vandy's line by having Morrison line up at the line of scrimmage, or by dropping Fowler into coverage once in a while, just to see if he can make the whiz kids from Vandy think too much and lure them into an assignment mistake. If Florida's front seven invades the backfield, the rest should take care of itself.
Vanderbilt Offensive Grade: B-
The only loss on defense was cornerback Trey Wilson; literally everybody else who played a part on this defense last year is back. Let's start up front: Seniors Chase Garnham and Karl Butler, along with Darreon Herring, anchor (no pun intended) the linebacker corps. Along with rapidly improving defensive lineman Kyle Woestmann, this defense could really wreak havoc.
The secondary is strong as well, with their other corner, Andre Hal, along with safeties Kenny Ladler and Javonn Marshall all back. This was an inconsistent defense in 2012 to say the least, but they did show some promise, if only in quick flashes. But they're a year older, stronger and more mature, so here's betting this will be one of the best defenses in the SEC.
Note: "One of the best" does not mean better than LSU or Alabama.
Vanderbilt's Defensive Strategy
If they can, the 'Dores are going to try to shut down Florida's running game first, because, as we all know, Florida's running game is its strength on offense. But James Franklin is after more than that. He's going to want to do the same thing Florida's defense will try to do: Force turnovers.
Like Vanderbilt, Florida's offense likes to just hand it off and roll the clock down and wear the defense out. Unlike Vanderbilt, Florida has actually proven that they can do it to the likes of LSU and FSU, so the Commodores will be that much more desperate to try to strip the ball carriers, and jump passing routes. They just need to be careful that they're not too eager, or Florida will burn them.
Florida's Offensive Strategy
The Gators know what they have to do to win every game to this point. It's going to change a little bit here. Instead of slamming Matt Jones up the middle 25 times, Florida needs to open it up a little more, but not too much more. In other words, Brent Pease needs to be aggressive, but careful.
Vanderbilt knows that forcing turnovers is the easy way to win, so they're going to be extra aggressive coming after Driskel; therefore, somebody's got to be open down the field. If Florida sticks with the tried-and-true ground-and-pound method, Vanderbilt will sniff it out and stuff it. So Driskel, Quinton Dunbar, Andre Debose and Solomon Patton: This game's on you to produce YouTube-worthy plays to break it open.
Vanderbilt Defensive Grade: A-
Vanderbilt Overall Grade: B-
Florida's front seven vs. Vanderbilt's offensive line. Carta-Samuels is new at this whole "playing QB for an SEC team" thing, and while he'll get several games under his belt before this one, he'll probably be shaken to some degree by the roar of The Swamp. If the Gators can get past his blockers, and harass him frequently enough to force him to make mistakes, somebody on Florida's defensive line might get a chance at a once in a lifetime touchdown ... and if that does indeed happen, what more could D.J. Durkin ask for?
As I've said before, Vanderbilt was the SEC's whipping boy since long before Andy or I were born. But times have changed since James Franklin stepped in as the head coach in Nashville.
Beating him twice in a row doesn't eradicate the fact that this is a dangerous football team that has taken every step up from the bottom of the SEC to just one rung below the top. This is their chance to take that final step, and knock off the co-defending SEC East Champs — yes, Georgia represented the East in Atlanta last year, but Florida did tie with them in the standings — in The Swamp. But at some point, sheer talent and superior coaching trump fire, grit and determination.
If the Gators do not hand the game to Vanderbilt with silly mistakes (a big if, as always), they will simply overrun Vanderbilt by the end of the third quarter. I think Florida wins their 23rd in a row over Vanderbilt, and possibly in gigantic fashion, but not before we see a sign or two from Franklin's club that it truly will be in the SEC East race for the long run.
Florida 31, Vanderbilt 7.