Florida defeated Vanderbilt, 26-21, on Saturday afternoon. We'll look back at the game in at multiple parts; the Rapid Recap, which reacts to the game in full before a second viewing, comes first.
Florida's first win since September didn't come easily, and likely won't leave many Gators fans thinking good things about Will Muschamp's squad. But the Gators did enough to fend off a feisty Vanderbilt outfit, and that might be as much as we can ask for this year.
How Florida Won
Jeff Demps' 52-yard touchdown run with a little more than two minutes left was the game winning score, but Florida didn't have the game fully in hand until Jordan Reed leaped and snared an onside kick with a bit over a minute left, enabling Florida to go into victory formation and kill the clock.
I've already written a variation on this once this year, after Florida beat Kentucky, but: Jeff Demps had his best game as a Florida Gator today. The 158 rushing yards pipped his 157-yard performance at Kentucky for his career high on the ground, and his late touchdown run was absolutely vital to Florida's chances in this game and the collective psyche of Gator Nation. But it was the little runs that made me proudest, and the resilience Demps showed as the focus of an offense that seemed rather uninterested in blocking for him for much of the game. Demps may never tote the football 23 times in a game again, and if he doesn't, Florida will probably be better for it; he's never going to be a fantastic every-down back, and that's perfectly fine. But in a pinch — and today's tight, Chris Rainey-less game certainly qualified — the quarkback can be a passable facsimile. Thank goodness for that.
Jacoby Brissett's suddenly a great change of pace at quarterback, I guess? He produced Florida's best pass play of the day, escaping pressure to find Omarius Hines for a 39-yard catch-and-run, got a touchdown on a quarterback sneak (which may seem minor, but, uh, do you trust John Brantley to do that?), and kept a late pass play alive for just long enough to throw a pass downfield and draw a fully justified pass interference flag that led to Demps' touchdown run. Brissett's not nearly ready to start, but he certainly seems to have inked his name in at second on the depth chart, with Jeff Driskel well behind him, and that may mean he's the front-runner to start in 2012.
Weis inserted Burton in a package that split Brissett out wide late, and had him go from the shotgun to under center, which was enough to get Vandy to jump offside on a fourth down and give Florida a new set of downs. It's fair to criticize Weis for a lot of the offense's struggles this season, but he's completely mastered creating chaos on fourth down and eliciting stupidity from a defense.
Burton may have finally found his role in the Florida offense, with three catches for 41 yards as a hybrid fullback/tight end. He's got enough speed and power to make one thing happen on each catch in space, and he's more reliable than any other receiver Florida has, which is a sad truth that is less about Burton than the rest of Florida's receivers. As long as Weis doesn't use Burton for much more than that and the fakeouts, and we don't expect more of him than that, I think we'll be fairly happy with him.
Florida's defensive line got pressure fairly often, and Dominique Easley and Sharrif Floyd both played well enough to get a shout-out from Gators great Alex Brown after the game. That pressure didn't culminate in sacks, and flushing Jordan Rodgers from the pocket often meant bad things for the Gators defense, but the line did its job more often than not on passing downs, and also held the Commodores to 2.4 yards per carry. Can we ask for a lot more? I don't think so, especially not in a game that included a blocked kick by Floyd.
There was a team in this game that was flagged 12 times for 106 penalty yards, and Florida somehow wasn't it. That might be a sign of incompetent officiating, but it's at least a better outcome than much of Florida's season.
Mike Gillislee got carries! Nine of them, for 39 yards! That's not as good as his rate has been, and those carries might disappear once Rainey returns, but we got a #FreeGilly with the "free" being an adjective this week.
Hunter Joyer looked good blocking in the I formation, and also had three carries for 17 yards. I'll bet that's also a flash in the pan, but it might also be a flash from 2012.
Caleb Sturgis returned from injury to hit two field goals, one from 55 yards. It's nice to know we have a kicked who counts that as his range.
Vanderbilt's ball-hawking defense created one fumble, on Hines' lone catch of the day. That's sort of a victory?
If you include Hines in Florida's tight ends, they had five catches for 81 yards, which shows that Weis will go to the tight end if he wants to, despite the talent level of the players he's working with. And A.C. Leonard made the first catch of his Florida career, so that's good, too.
Given how terrible Florida's offensive line has been, giving up just one sack (albeit to Vanderbilt) was a welcome development.
Brantley was good early, finding eight receivers in the first half and distributing the ball well. But his limitations nearly cost Florida this game. He missed wide open receivers downfield on one second half throw, then missed the well-covered man underneath that he threw to; he threw behind Reed on a pass late; he completed just four second half passes. And, this week, we can't really look at the leaky line as his excuse; this was more on Brantley than not. Brantley didn't make the mistakes that would sink Florida, but he didn't even really seize the game for the Gators, either, and that's the most maddening thing a quarterback can be, really: Just good enough.
Florida's receivers weren't quite as frustratingly invisible as they have been, but here's their combined line, including WR/TE Hines: six catches, 108 yards. Removing Hines makes that line five catches for 68 yards. Against Vanderbilt, that's thoroughly unimpressive.
Florida was without linebackers Jelani Jenkins and Lerentee McCray, both injured, but the corps didn't exactly distinguish itself. Nothing great, nothing terrible, sure, but the hope is always for better than that, and Michael Taylor, one of my favorite Gators this year, badly overpursued on Rodgers' touchdown run, despite sniffing out the QB option.
I've been defending Florida's secondary all year, and I think I've been doing it honestly and fairly; this unit's had problems because of its youth and relative lack of size, I thought, and because Florida hasn't put pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Today? Not so much. Rodgers was able to dissect the secondary at will from inside and outside the pocket, and Jordan Matthews was perpetually open, snaring nine passes for 170 yards. De'Ante Saunders completely screwed up his coverage on Matthews' touchdown catch, and then failed to haul in an interception despite a glaring pass interference penalty on another play. Marcus Roberson couldn't prevent Matthews from making a beautiful one-handed catch by locking up his other arm. Jaylen Watkins couldn't pull down a pick. Josh Evans got roasted in coverage. And Matt Elam's most notable play was a good deflection on Vanderbilt's first pass that ended with him pulling up lame. I stand by my judgment that this secondary is better than 2007's, but the gap got much smaller today.
Jonotthan Harrison only sent one snap over Brantley's head, but so many made Brantley leap that he was replaced by Sam Robey. With Xavier Nixon's season-long struggles and Matt Patchan's own issues, it would be nice if at least the center of Florida's line could be consistent; Harrison ruined that dream today.
Gators fans, if you are going to a game at The Swamp, please find your seats before kickoff. That will prevent pictures like this from getting taken, and prevent those who will poke fun at attendance issues from conveniently overlooking that you actually filled out the stadium or that attendance was announced at over 90,000. And as for the students, well ... I can't say too much for myself, as a student who has sold tickets to games I chose not to attend, but if I'm going to a football game, you can be damn sure I'm in my seat and making noise from kickoff to triple zeroes. Suffering through games like today's in full makes the big wins and thrilling comebacks better, believe me.
The refereeing in this game was, to be kind, atrocious. Vanderbilt made errors, and flag-worthy ones, but I refuse to believe that if they made 11 of them (one penalty was a deliberate delay of game), Florida made only three. The Gators were more disciplined than in previous weeks, but not much more disciplined. These refs also missed Saunders' mind-numbingly blatant pass interference; likely called a late Vanderbilt catch wrong on the field, then were unable to overturn it because of inadequate visual evidence; may have missed a holding call on Demps' touchdown run; and allowed Easley to throw down Rodgers on a play that had been whistled dead. I don't think that's home cooking, or corruption; I just think it's incompetence, and wish that I didn't have dumb calls to lampoon. And while I'm not calling for this game's outcome to be vacated because of the dumb calls, I wish the SEC felt it important enough to its mission to employ the best officiating crews possible.
Much as with officiating, I think not having anything to write about after the game is a good sign for an announcing crew. Dave Neal and Andre Ware gave me things to write about: Neal suggested that Florida would have good field position after a Vandy punt from midfield, Ware all but demonstrated a fourth down play-call for the 'Dores before realizing they had gotten a first down, and Ware praised a Joyer block that involved Joyer diving at a defender's legs and the defender hopping over him. This is Raycom's/Jefferson Pilot's/Lincoln Financial's legacy, of course, but I don't have to be happy about it.