A sluggish start for an underwhelming game
Chris: There’s no sugarcoating this: Florida came out incredibly flat. There was zero buzz heading into this game, as expected given Vanderbilt’s lack of success this season, and perhaps that played a part in an incredibly sluggish start, but there’s also no denying that Florida did not come to this game with its best effort from whistle to whistle.
Vandy took the ball on the first drive and marched right down the field on a well-executed, surely scripted drive, facing little to no resistance from an inert defense that saw most of its motion happen presnap. And Florida’s potent offense played into the sluggishness, too: Outside of their first drive, a quick and efficient scoring march thanks in large part to Kyle Trask and Kadarius Toney, the first half was very frustrating. Two drives led to quick punts, another culminated in a field goal, and the snap-to-snap look wasn’t that of the elite offense the Florida faithful have grown accustomed to.
And all that didn’t matter, really: The defense did hold firm against a lifeless Commodores offense after that first drive, holding Vandy to just ten points in the first half; ultimately, the class of Florida’s reigned supreme, as Kyle Trask did his thing and turned this into an easy win for the Gators. Hopefully, we’ll learn that this wasn’t cause for long-term concern — that Florida just failed to get up for this one, and it took the Gators a while to gain control.
But this start shows this team can still start slowly.
Kyle Trask’s baseline is bonkers
Andy: Kyle Trask completed 26 of 35 passes for 383 yards and three touchdowns against Vanderbilt last Saturday.
He did not post season highs in completions, completion percentage, passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per attempt, or passer rating in that game.
It was his seventh game of three or more touchdown passes in 2020, but his only one with fewer than four; it was his sixth game with 300 or more passing yards, but just his third-highest total. He put together a 194.49 passer rating that would have been second nationally to Joe Burrow’s in 2019 — and is better than every nation-leading seasonal rating prior to 2016 — and it was his fourth-best of the year, and slightly below his 197.09 rating for the season.
This is where we are with Trask right now: A relatively unremarkable game by his standards and ours is also an extraordinary game in most eyes. He — and Florida’s offense being a masterpiece in the making — is numbing us to greatness.
I really, really hope we can savor this season, because it won’t last forever and might not be replicable. But it might be easier to do that after the fact, when our understanding of what he is doing can be appreciated rather than absorbed.
Florida’s running game is stuck in second gear
Chris: It’s been a running theme this season for the Gators, and even against a bad Vandy team, it held true: The rushing attack just isn’t dominant. Vanderbilt came into the game allowing the second most rushing yards per game in the SEC at 185 a game, but the Gators couldn’t exploit it.
They did finish with 173 rushing yards on the day, which isn’t necessarily the worst, but it feels worse when considering that just one carry went for more than 15 yards, and that there were several times the run was stuffed and completely ineffective.
This is also more of a eye-test complaint than a box-score issue: Dameon Pierce had a nice game with over five yards a carry and a score, Emory Jones did damage in his cameo, and Malik Davis was close to five yards a tote in his own right. But it still feels to me like Florida’s run game isn’t a factor except as an afterthought, and isn’t dominant even when it’s leaned on to lean on an overmatched foe.
If it can’t consistently move the ball on the ground against Vandy, Florida might find the elusive but forever-sought offensive balance difficult to achieve down the stretch of this season against much more competent teams.
The defense is probably still a fatal flaw
Andy: At this point, talking about the flaws in Florida’s defense feels like swiping a stick at the ghost of a dead horse: We all know them, if we are watching. Players look lost, play off coverages inexplicably, take full quarters to seem like they’re ready to play, miss tackles, blow assignments, and so forth.
It’s not great, as Vandy putting up exactly as many passing yards on Florida as it did on Ole Miss and its best yards per attempt mark by more than a yard and a half helps convey. And if you’re panning for positives, Florida did do a pretty good job of gumming up the Commodores’ running game (34 carries, 87 yards), and got some promising play from reserves like Jesiah Pierre and especially Ty’Ron Hopper — who basically wrecked a drive by himself late in the game — but also gave up Vanderbilt’s best offensive day of the year on a per-play basis.
This defense, though, is not meaningfully changing under Todd Grantham this fall, and not getting meaningful reinforcements other than players like Pierre and Hopper getting rotated in on occasion. And that’s not enough to make Florida’s defense anything other than what it is: A substandard unit and a likely liability that is going to be the reason that Florida fails to win a game, if and when Florida fails to win a game.
It is what it is. Pretending it’s something else will serve all of us poorly.