Vanderbilt football stuns Florida, will play Tennessee for bowl eligibility
A week after snapping a three-year long SEC losing streak, Vanderbilt football won its second in a row Saturday over Florida at FirstBank Stadium.
Improbably, Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-5 SEC) will face Tennessee in the final game of the regular season on senior night with a chance to clinch bowl eligibility after losing its first five SEC games of the season.
Florida (6-5, 3-5) cut the Commodores' lead to a touchdown late in the fourth quarter after Vanderbilt had led for most of the game, but a final Hail Mary fell short and Vanderbilt won 31-24. The students stormed the field after the program's first back-to-back SEC victories since 2018 and first home victory over the Gators since 1988.
ANALYSIS:Vanderbilt football has earned its shot at Tennessee — and the stakes are high
REPORT CARD:Vanderbilt football grades vs. Florida: Making sense of another streak-busting win
MAHONEY'S PICKWatch Vanderbilt defensive back Jaylen Mahoney pick off Gators, capitalize with TD
Vanderbilt's first half went about as well as could have been expected after a three-and-out on the first drive and a Will Sheppard fumble on the second. The Commodores held Florida to two field goals despite a fair share of explosive plays and the offense turned it on in the second quarter. In a drive that spanned the quarter break, Vanderbilt moved methodically down the field with the aid of a few Gators penalties.
Mike Wright, starting his second straight game in place of injured AJ Swann — who was not in uniform — found Jayden McGowan for the first touchdown of the game. Later in the second quarter, the Commodores went three-and-out, but Florida muffed the punt at the 5-yard line and long snapper Wesley Schelling recovered in the end zone for another touchdown.
Vanderbilt led by eight at halftime, the second straight week the Commodores had the lead at half.
TARGETING EJECTIONVanderbilt cornerback BJ Anderson ejected for targeting vs. Florida
SWANN STILL OUTVanderbilt football quarterback AJ Swann out vs. Florida, Mike Wright to start
Taking advantage of mistakes
After a Florida touchdown to start the third quarter cut Vanderbilt's lead to two, the Commodores came roaring back thanks to a handful of Gators mistakes. On the ensuing drive, a third-down play was going nowhere with Wright under pressure, but a defensive holding penalty gave Vanderbilt a first down. From there, the Commodores moved methodically down the field and capped off the drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Wright to tight end Gavin Schoenwald.
Then, safety Jaylen Mahoney intercepted a tipped pass in Florida territory on third down. Vanderbilt scored on the next play with a 28-yard pass from Wright to tight end Ben Bresnahan.
Florida scored a 74-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. The Commodores stopped the two-point conversion to keep the lead at 10 points.
Wright was intercepted in the red zone late in the fourth quarter, but the Gators failed on a fourth-down conversion deep in their own territory to give Vanderbilt the ball back.
Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @aria_gerson.