Vanderbilt football grades vs. Florida: Making sense of another streak-busting win
Vanderbilt football followed up its streak-busting win over Kentucky last week with another stunner on Saturday, beating Florida 31-24 at FirstBank Stadium.
It's the first time the Commodores (5-6, 2-5 SEC) have won back-to-back SEC games since 2018 and their first home win over the Gators (6-5, 3-5) since 1988. Most importantly, Vanderbilt remains in contention for a bowl game entering next week's finale against Tennessee.
Here's how we graded the win over Florida:
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Against Florida's leaky defense, Vanderbilt was able to consistently move the ball, getting consistent yardage rushing (175) and passing (108), albeit without many explosive plays. Thirty-one points is a season high against a Power Five team, and it was enough to win.
The only thing that dampens this grade is two turnovers by the Commodores: a fumble and an interception. Two conservative drives late in the game also let Florida back in.
The overall yardage and yards per play numbers were lopsided in favor of Florida, but that's a bit misleading. The Gators had fewer than 100 yards in each of the first three quarters before racking up 230 in the fourth quarter trying to come back from down two scores. That does hurt the defense's grade — it didn't need to be as interesting at the end as it was — but overall, Vanderbilt did a good job limiting Florida and taking quarterback Anthony Richardson's running ability out of the game.
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Special teams: A+
Long snapper Wesley Schelling showed real hustle in recovering a muffed punt for a touchdown in the second quarter. But while that was the biggest play, the rest of the special teams played a near-flawless game, too. Matt Hayball pinned Florida deep on his punts, one of which was muffed at the 5-yard line; Jayden McGowan had 62 kick return yards; and Joe Bulovas made all his extra points and a field goal late in the fourth quarter. Vanderbilt also recovered a Florida onside kick.
Sure, there are a few quibbles, like the overly conservative offensive playcalling at the end of the game. Overall, though, the coaches did a good job not allowing this to be a letdown game for Vanderbilt after breaking the SEC losing streak a week earlier. The Commodores played from ahead most of the game, even with injuries on the offensive line and at quarterback. Vanderbilt was also the far more disciplined team, with four penalties for 35 yards compared to seven for 80 yards for the Gators.
It's hard to give any other grade for this performance. Vanderbilt, in the span of three weeks, has gone from a 26-game SEC losing streak to a shot at bowl eligibility on rivalry week. Anything else is immaterial at this point.
Aria Gerson covers Vanderbilt athletics for The Tennessean. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @aria_gerson.