No. 23 Florida looks to regain focus vs. Vanderbilt
The streak was going to end sooner or later. Still, Florida didn't expect it to end in the fashion it did.
The Gators left Neyland Stadium in stunned silence after blowing an 18-point halftime lead in a 38-28 loss to rival Tennessee. The defeat ended Florida's string of 11 consecutive wins over the Volunteers.
No. 23 Florida (3-1) will look to regroup on Saturday (noon, ET) when the Gators take on Vanderbilt at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tenn. The Gators are hoping their second trip to the Volunteer State will have a better ending than their first.
"The big thing moving forward is what are we going to learn from this and how are we going to let it affect us," Florida coach Jim McElwain said of the Tennessee loss. "We have a lot of football ahead of us and there's a lot that we can accomplish. It will be interesting to see how we handle people writing us off, jumping off the ship."
Vanderbilt (2-2) is coming off a 31-30 overtime win at Western Kentucky. The Commodores are led by a pair of junior standouts -- running back Ralph Webb and linebacker Zach Cunningham.
"They play disciplined, they play sound," McElwain said. "And I think Cunningham is one of the most underrated players in the league."
Florida has plenty to clean up following its second-half collapse. The Gators' normally air-tight secondary allowed Tennessee senior quarterback Josh Dobbs to throw for 319 yards and four touchdowns. A Florida offense that moved the ball effectively in the first half went three-and-out on five second-half drives.
"They came and took it to us," McElwain said. "That's disappointing. We gave them a lot to cheer about."
Meanwhile,Vanderbilt's performance last week was a mirror image of that of Florida. After a poor effort in a 38-7 blowout loss to Georgia Tech, the Commodores found themselves with a meager five yards of total offense and a 7-0 deficit after the first quarter at Western Kentucky. But the Commodores hung around and instead, found themselves victors as a road underdog.
Webb scored on a 2-yard run on the last play of regulation, pulling Vandy even for the first time since the opening minutes of the first quarter. After the teams traded touchdowns in overtime, Western Kentucky's pass for a potential game-winning two-point conversion was batted in the air and intercepted, giving the 8.5-point underdog Commodores the 31-30 victory.
The key to Vandy's offense was the up-tempo approach it had on the final drive of regulation. With no timeouts left and 1:02 on the clock, quarterback Kyle Shurmur was money, making several nice throws to lead the Commodores down the field to set up Webb's tying run.
In overtime, the confidence and rhythm carried over. Shurmur, on a third-and-goal from the 5-yard line, threw a bullet to tight end Nathan Marcus in traffic for the go-ahead score.
Shurmur has shown that he can be effective in that type of offense in games and practices. The question now becomes whether the Commodores want to run it.
There are two problems. First, the Commodore receivers had a hard time finding space in the first half. When the Hilltoppers played looser coverage in the final minutes, certainly that helped.
Second, the defense has faltered considerably since last year. Dating back to the last two games of 2015, Vanderbilt has given up 486 yards or more in five of those six contests.
It may be a good idea anyway.
Shurmur was yanked from the opener against South Carolina after a first-half scoring drive and couldn't find a groove once he was re-inserted after a pair of drives. Shurmur missed his first seven passes against Middle Tennessee State, but in a pair of rapid-fire drives to end the first half, he hit 13 of his next 14 throws.
Since that 0-for-7 start against the Blue Raiders, Shurmur is 50 of 76 for 541 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.