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Florida vs. Vanderbilt preview: Will the Gators stay hot in the Nashville chill?

Florida’s found its stride in the final stretch of the regular season. Has Vanderbilt done the same?

Syndication: Gator Sports Matt Pendleton / USA TODAY NETWORK

Last week, I wrote about momentum. The Gators certainly seem to have some, both on the field and the recruiting trail. Florida has won its last two games by healthy margins, qualified for a bowl game, and seemingly turned around its season after starting 1-4 in SEC play.

The biggest turnaround for Florida has been on the defensive side. After getting lit up for much of the season, the Florida defense has seemingly buckled down since the second half of the Texas A&M game — and, if we’re honest, that defense has been better since the bye week, but Georgia’s roster was too talented for schematic improvements to yield the desired corresponding results.

Before the open week, the Florida defense was giving up 5.96 yards per play, 61.9% of available yards, and 52.58% of third downs. Since the open week, the Gators defensive numbers haven’t changed a ton, outside of the “money” down: Florida has given up 6.02 yards per play, 51.67% of available yards, and 36.11% of third downs. The biggest positive in this three game sample size may be the fact that the Gators have created eight turnovers.

But if you treat the Georgia game as an outlier and just look at the last two games, you will see some significant improvement across all three of those categories. In the last two games, the Florida defense is giving up 5.24 yards per play, 44.5% of available yards, and 29.17% of third downs.

The feel that the defense is turning around certainly feels centered around the big change in third down success. Vanderbilt, the Gators next opponent, has not been a juggernaut at extending drives this season. If the Florida defense can continue to get off the field, you’d have to feel pretty good about the Gators keeping that momentum going into a huge rivalry game next week.

Before we can get to next week, though, we must first look at the game at hand. Florida travels to Vanderbilt for a nice, cold early kickoff. What kind of team are the Commodores? Let’s take a look at some numbers.

Florida vs. Vanderbilt Statistical Comparison

Team Florida Gators Vanderbilt Commodores
Team Florida Gators Vanderbilt Commodores
Category Number Rank Number Rank
YPP Offense 6.79 14 5.57 75
YPP Defense 6 108 6.74 127
Available Yards % O 55.30% 29 41.80% 89
Available Yards % D 54.00% 109 56.50% 117
Third Downs O 41.46% 51 37.86% 77
Third Downs D 48.12% 127 43.41% 112
Explosive Plays O 60 19 41 83
Explosive Plays D 50 93 60 125
Turnover Margin 8 11 1 59
Average Starting Field Postion Own 28 81 Own 27 90
Player Average Rank Player Average Rank
Team Talent Composite 89.86 12 85.14 61

Statistically, the Florida offense is the best unit in the game for the third straight week. And this week the Florida defense may not be the worst one according to the numbers. Vanderbilt’s offense is a little below average, but their defense is one of the worst in the country in all the metrics above.

Scheme Things We May See

As stated above, the Vanderbilt defense has struggled this season. However, that isn’t due to schematic deficiencies. Vandy shows a variety of fronts and coverages. They also move post snap at all three levels and aren’t afraid to blitz.

Against Kentucky, they got into some odd front looks including what appeared to be a little Bear front. I would imagine they play Florida in a similar way. Vandy was also playing the run very aggressively, while keeping a top on the defense by dropping into some deep zones. This left them vulnerable to play action and intermediate passing. In the run game, they struggled against pullers and gap schemes.

I’d imagine we’ll see a bit of all those schemes from the Gators and maybe even some new wrinkles to their boot passes.

Offensively, a lot will depend on which quarterback plays for the Commodores. Mike Wright got the nod last week after A.J. Swann suffered an injury against South Carolina. Wright, who started for Vanderbilt earlier this season, is a dynamic athlete that brings a lot to the run game. Vandy had a bunch of run schemes with read elements and Wright used those to run for 126 yards and a touchdown against Kentucky. If he’s the guy again this week, the Gators will need to be disciplined in their pass rush lanes and on the backside of Vandy’s run actions.

Wright has struggled at times in the passing game and has shown the propensity to force some throws. He’s had a lot of faith in wide receiver Will Sheppard and will sometimes throw it up to him even when he’s well-covered.

I’d imagine Florida will continue to mix up fronts like they have done the last few weeks. Vandy has had some injuries on the offensive line, and if the Gators can confuse that group it should lead to TFLs and possibly turnovers.

In the video below, I take a closer look at Vandy’s schemes. They are an interesting watch schematically: Their defense does a lot of good stuff and the offensive run game with Wright is well designed. Check it out.