Vanderbilt-Florida Preview

November 3, 2015

Jim McElwain's season-long rallying cry has Florida on the cusp of an SEC East title, and perhaps an even greater prize down the road.

The 11th-ranked Gators can clinch a berth in the conference championship game with a win over Vanderbilt Saturday afternoon, the first step in McElwain's plan of "restoring the order" to one of college football's premier programs.

Florida (7-1, 5-1 SEC) has seemingly all but sewn up its first SEC East crown since Tim Tebow's senior season of 2009 following last week's 27-3 rout of rival Georgia, putting the Gators two games up on the Bulldogs and Tennessee in the loss column with victories over both. Florida needs only a win over the Commodores or at struggling South Carolina next week to book a trip to Atlanta.

At No. 10 in the season's first College Football Playoff rankings, the Gators would make a very strong case for inclusion in the national semifinals as a one-loss SEC champion if they win out.


''It's not about thinking about going to the championship,'' McElwain said. ''It's about what do we do right now to get better because the championship will never come if we don't take care of the now. And our guys are getting that.''

Florida heeded McElwain's words with a dominant performance in Jacksonville, limiting Georgia to 223 total yards and scoring 21 points off five Bulldogs' turnovers. The Gators added a season-high 258 rushing yards, 121 from Kelvin Taylor, to put behind a 35-28 defeat at No. 4 LSU and the loss of starting quarterback Will Grier for a positive PED test prior to the Oct. 17 game in Baton Rouge.

The Gators rank second in the FBS with a plus-13 turnover margin and seventh in scoring defense (15.5 ppg), standards that could very well be sustained against the mistake-prone Commodores.

Vanderbilt owns a troubling minus-11 turnover ratio and has been among the nation's lowest scoring teams, averaging a mere 15.8 points per game. The Commodores have generated just 20 points over their last three and were blanked 34-0 by unbeaten Houston last week after committing four giveaways.

''It's hard to win a game when you basically score 21 points for the other team,'' center Spencer Pulley said. "It wasn't anybody's one mistake. It was a whole offensive thing.''

Quarterbacks Kyle Shurmur and Johnny McCrary were a combined 5 of 20 passing for 44 yards with three interceptions. Shurmur sat out the second half with an unspecified injury and is questionable to play this week.

Shurmur has started the last two games while sharing time with McCrary, who's thrown 10 interceptions in his six starts and had two more against Houston.

"The turnover battle for us has been our arch nemesis," Commodores coach Derek Mason said. "If we take care of the football, we put ourselves into position to be in ballgames, so for me it's about which quarterback gives us the best opportunity to manage that."

Vanderbilt was on the right side of that column in its last visit to Gainesville, forcing four turnovers in a 34-17 upset that halted a 22-game series losing streak and marked the Commodores' first victory at The Swamp since 1945. The Gators rushed for 214 yards and intercepted McCrary twice in last year's 34-10 win in Nashville.

Treon Harris rushed for two touchdowns and threw for 215 yards in last season's matchup and makes his third consecutive start in place of the suspended Grier. The sophomore has developed a rapport with Antonio Callaway, who's eclipsed 100 receiving yards in the past two games and hauled in a 66-yard touchdown pass against Georgia. The dynamic freshman had a 72-yard punt return score in the LSU loss.

''Not a bad player, is he?'' McElwain said of Callaway. ''Here's what I like: He goes about his business the way it's supposed to be done. He's consistent. He wants to be good. It's important to him. This team is important to him.''

Vanderbilt is 0-3 against Top 25 teams this season and has lost eight straight to ranked opponents since a 31-27 win over No. 19 Georgia on Oct. 5, 2013.