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Florida 42, Vanderbilt 0: Gators wring good and bad from staccato showing

The Gators shut out Vanderbilt on Homecoming. They were only dominant in bursts, though.

Vanderbilt v Florida Photo by James Gilbert/Getty Images

The Florida Gators led early and scored often against the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday.

For a program with higher standards than a 42-0 shutout of the lowliest SEC school, though, it was a staccato showing.

Emory Jones threw for 273 yards and four touchdowns, both career highs, but also commanded an offense that sputtered at various points, throwing a bad interception on a deflected pass late in the third quarter.

Florida’s defense posted its first shutout since a 2019 blanking of Vandy, but let the Commodores drive consistently, ultimately needing an overturned touchdown pass and three missed field goals to maintain its goose egg.

And the Gators as a team didn’t look like the focused, full-force squad that gave Alabama hell less than a month ago, with penalties and sloppiness vexing Dan Mullen to the point of his halftime interview eliciting only brutal brevity and his demeanor on the day resembling that of a man with burrs in both boots.

As 42-0 wins go, this wasn’t one that would convince many of anything other than the team with the 42 points being a lot better than the team that ended up with zero.

Florida’s been diminished somewhat by injury, to be sure, with star quarterback Kaiir Elam sitting out for a third straight game and an offensive line having to reshuffle itself both before and in this game for injury reasons. Lead running back Malik Davis didn’t play in this game; top pass-rusher Brenton Cox Jr. didn’t see the field in the second half after his pressure helped force an interception in the first.

But sharpness in offensive execution was largely limited to Florida’s first offensive drives and its first salvos after the half, as the Gators cut through the Commodores like a blade through paper. On those five possessions, Florida faced third down just twice — and the Gators followed the one that was a failure with punter Jeremy Crawshaw sweeping around the corner for 28 yards on a well-called fake punt, then a touchdown pass on second and 26.

The other eight Florida possessions yielded just one touchdown, and also featured Jones’s eighth pick of a season that is just six games old and Anthony Richardson’s first interception as a Gator.

And while Florida’s defense allowed no points and stiffened when necessary, it also gave up 289 yards and 18 first downs to a Vanderbilt team that had 77 and four of those respective stats against Georgia.

With losses to Alabama and Kentucky in its rear view and all but closing off its path to the SEC Championship Game and Georgia both on its schedule and seemingly well ahead of the field in the SEC East, Florida’s distance from the Bulldogs will assuredly be the topic of discussion for much of the rest of the 2021 season in Gator Nation — which, in turn, makes contrasting performance against common foes a likely pastime.

And in the sense that Georgia throttled Vanderbilt for almost all of its meeting, while Florida only mustered that sort of dominance in fits and starts, Florida lost a game that it won 42-0 on Saturday.

It’s tough to play football both on the field and in the court of public opinion.