Last year the Vanderbilt Commodores strolled into the Swamp with what could be described as a great quarterback, nothing to lose and a history of giving the Florida Gators all they could handle. Vanderbilt took an early lead on an easy touchdown drive to begin the game, only to watch the Gators take a commanding lead. It was not over yet though, as Jay Cutler and the Commodores tied the game late and took UF into overtime. As Reggie Lewis intercepted a Cutler pass and ended Vandy's chances, it's safe to say that every Gator fan in the Swamp that night really felt like a huge bullet was dodged.
This season Vanderbilt was supposed to be an afterthought in the SEC, just like they had been many times in the past...I mean, they lost a quarterback who ended up being a high draft pick and is now battling for a starting job in the NFL (or challenging Plummer to be better, at least). This was a false prediction as it turns out, as Vandy put up a pretty decent performance in Ann Arbor to begin the season and went into Athens and beat the Bulldogs between the Hedges. While the Commodores are not a team that strikes fear into you, it's still a good bet to not take them lightly.
I don't think the Gators took them lightly yesterday afternoon. I just think that the Gators played a solid team yesterday in an SEC road game, something that is never an easy thing to do. While at times it looked like the Gators could end up blowing Vandy out, it never ended up that way. In the end it took UF recovering an onsides kick to basically put the game away and leave the SEC championship hopes in the hands of LSU going into the mid-afternoon SEC matchup.
Here are some of my random thoughts from yesterdays game, a game in which I am still not convinced the Gators know how to make any second half adjustments...a part of football that most teams do the best:
The QB Play
Chris Leak did not look comfortable on several occassions, despite accounting for all 3 of the Gators' touchdowns yesterday. There were a couple plays in which Chris did not handle pressure from the outside coming and never found a way to step up in the pocket or get the ball to any dumpoff receivers. This equaled 4 sacks for Vandy's defense and a couple of pretty bad throws. In the end Leak had thrown 3 interceptions, including one near the goal line to finish the first half on a low-note.
Leak has been such a paradox this season. There have been games where Leak looks very comfortable and is able to hit his downfield targets pretty well (the best example would be the Alabama game). And then he has a game like yesterday where he looked pretty good at times hitting his receivers, then looks incedibly bad at other times. More consistency is needed, but through 9 games it's tough to change things up fully.
The WR Play
Yesterday was a pretty good day for a couple of Gator receivers. Here are some of the final stats for two guys who made a difference yesterday:
Player Rec Yds
Andre Caldwell 8 68
Dallas Baker 7 135
The offensive performance was dominated by these two individuals. While it is very good to see these guys jump out as team leaders, I'd like to see some of the other receivers getting a few more touches. Only 5 receivers touched the ball, outside of Tate Casey grabbing a 2 point conversion pass on a botched snap. This includes Jemalle Cornelius, one of our better players, only catching 2 passes and no running backs or tight ends catching any.
I'm very happy for Baker and Caldwell and hope they continue the success, but lets get some other guys involved to lead a more balanced attack. Obviously Harvin was still hobbling from that ankle, but Cornelius needs to get more looks.
I would say that Chris Leak needs to do more to spread the wealth, but obviously this could be the receivers fault for not getting open. It's tough to see this and make an assessment watching the game on TV.
Ryan Smith Is Great
Thank goodness for Ryan Smith transferring to us from Utah. He's been great this season for the Gators at a spot that was more than likely the Gators biggest weakness coming into the season. There was talk of Reggie Nelson or one of the McCollum brothers taking Dee Webb's spot at corner, but thankfully we have Reggie playing at safety and Smith playing very well at CB.
Yesterday Smith blocked a punt and had an INT. Very productive out of a member of the secondary. I'm very thankful this guy is a Gator, and I hope he continually can put up these defensive numbers in future games. And he's only a junior, too.
Maybe I'm loving on him a little too much here. He did have a pretty stupid penalty when he hit the Vandy QB in the head...people will make those mistakes. On the whole season scale, though, I'm very happy with Mr. Smith's performance. I think nearly all Gator fans are. He's done a heck of a job.
Anyways, that's about all I've got from yesterdays game. Vanderbilt put up a pretty good fight. They have a great player in Bennett and Nickson is not a bad QB at all. They may be getting a pretty good little team together up there in Nashville. The more games they have like their win in Athens and we may see the Vanderbilt program become a little better over time, something that will make the SEC a little more respectable than it already is. No matter how Vandy does though, you can never count them out against the Gators. I know I never take them lightly as a Gators fan, that's for sure.