Florida football: 5 bold predictions for Gators' game against Vanderbilt
Florida takes their high-flying offense on the road this weekend when the No. 6 Gators face Vanderbilt (noon ET, ESPN). Florida has won 6 consecutive games over Vanderbilt and 28 of the past 29 between the programs. With Florida entering Saturday’s contest as 31.5-point favorites over the winless Commodores, anything less than a big Gators win would be surprising.
Still, there are some interesting storylines headed into the game.
SDS dubbed Kyle Trask a Heisman candidate before the season, and the comments sections and Twitter mentions were a chorus of laughter and skepticism. Our take looks pretty good now, with Trask rising to the top tier of Heisman contenders with Alabama’s Mac Jones and touchdown machine Najee Harris, Ohio State’s Justin Fields and Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence as the season heads down the stretch. Can Trask build on his resume in Nashville? He’ll have every opportunity.
Meanwhile, Will Muschamp’s dismissal at South Carolina proves that not even COVID-19 can spare embattled coaches from the sword of Damocles in the mighty SEC. Then again, this is Vanderbilt, where Derek Mason’s players graduate and play hard. Is that enough to spare him at least 1 more season? Mason says it hasn’t been discussed yet, but another huge loss could swing things in the wrong direction for the veteran head coach. The Commodores have improved the past couple of games, but it might be too little, too late.
Here are 5 bold predictions for the Gators and Commodores.
Another 4-touchdown performance from Trask
How good has Trask been in 2020? Last year’s Heisman winner, Joe Burrow, threw an astonishing 60 touchdown passes once you include the College Football Playoff. In SEC play, Burrow threw 32 touchdowns in 9 games. Trask has 28 through 6 in 2020. Burrow threw 4 touchdowns or more in 4 SEC games last season. Trask has thrown 4 touchdowns or more in every game that Florida has played in 2020. Trask will do it again Saturday and equal Burrow’s 32 SEC touchdown passes 2 games ahead of schedule in the process.
Honestly, a 3rd Trask game with 5 touchdowns or more wouldn’t be surprising.
The Gators rank 3rd nationally in passing efficiency and 2nd in success rate offensively, and Vanderbilt is just woefully overmatched against the Florida passing game. The Commodores rank 104th in S&P+ defensive efficiency, 88th in yards allowed per pass attempt and 110th in sack percentage, which means they can’t pressure the quarterback — the one thing you can do that occasionally bothers Trask.
It all sets up for a monster day for the Gators quarterback, and you know Dan Mullen will let him wing it with the Heisman now a distinct possibility.
Dameon Pierce breaks out for 100 yards rushing
Florida doesn’t have a 1-running back setup, as Mullen is confident in any of the 3-man rotation of Pierce, Malik Davis and freshman Nay’Quan Wright.
But it has been noticeable the past 2 weeks that Pierce seems to be slightly ahead of the other 2 in terms of between-the-tackle touches. Pierce ranks 1st in the SEC in average yards after contact, edging out Auburn’s Tank Bigsby, and he has grinded out 69 yards against Arkansas and 52 against a tough Georgia defense in the past 2 weeks.
Florida’s ability to establish the run with Pierce — he collected more than 60 of his 131 yards in the past 2 games in the 1st quarter– has helped open things up even more for the passing game. The Gators aren’t a prolific rushing offense, but they run successfully enough (49 percent success rate) to make you respect it.
He may not be lighting up the box score in Floridas RBBC, but I'm still a fan of #UF Jr RB Dameon Pierce.
— Cory P. (@FF_Guitarist) November 15, 2020
Pierce doesn’t light up the box score, but as the video above demonstrates, he runs hard and is versatile. I think he’ll finally hit the 100-yard mark against a Commodores defense that surrendered 308 yards rushing to Kentucky a week ago.
‘Grimes Time’ continues
A big offseason question I had for the Gators was whether they’d seamlessly replace one of the most productive quartets of senior wide receivers in school history. Credit wide receivers coach Billy Gonzales — the Gators have answered the bell.
A big reason why the Florida receiving corps is far more than All-American Kyle Pitts is the outstanding play of senior Trevon Grimes. Grimes has been terrific in Florida’s past 2 games in particular, which has been enormous since Pitts left the Georgia game with a concussion midway through the 2nd quarter. In those 2 contests, Grimes has caught 8 passes for 131 yards and 3 touchdowns, including this otherworldly touchdown catch against Georgia.
🏆🏆🏆Life and Football🏆🏆🏆
He’s definitely going to hear his name called in the 2021 @NFLDraft
— Life and Football (@LifeandBall) November 15, 2020
Always blessed with elite (4.5) speed, Grimes ability to go get the ball in 1-on-1 matchups has been immense for Florida for two seasons, and scouts are starting to notice. He’s earned an invite to the Senior Bowl this offseason and should continue to post big numbers against Vanderbilt this weekend.
Cam Johnson has a day for the ‘Dores
A big reason the Vanderbilt offense has managed to start scoring points (24 per game over the last 3 contests) has been the outstanding play of wide receiver Cam Johnson. He shouldn’t get too much credit for his 14-reception performance against Ole Miss, as the Rebels defense can’t stop air. But a 10-reception on 12-target, 114-yard performance against a salty Mississippi State defense is impressive, and he added a touchdown this past weekend against a good Kentucky secondary.
Florida’s secondary remains mediocre, with good play from the corners too often negated by safety issues. The Gators rank 95th in opposing passing yards per game and 80th in yards allowed per pass attempt. Issues on the back end are compounded because the Gators don’t get to the quarterback at Todd Grantham’s usual elite level — Florida ranks only 27th in sack percentage after ranking in the top 10 in the first 2 years of the Grantham era.
Vanderbilt freshman quarterback Ken Seals has been a bright spot in a tough year, and his chemistry with Johnson, the hometown hero from Brentwood, is encouraging. He’ll hook up with Johnson several times on Saturday, allowing Vanderbilt to put points on the board and keep pressure on the Gators.
Bet the over (68) … if you’re into that sort of thing
If 68 seems like a lot of points, consider this: Florida has played only 2 games under that number this season. Vanderbilt? They’ve given up 38 points to a lowly Kentucky offense and 54 to the high-octane Ole Miss offense. They don’t discriminate in allowing touchdowns. Those figures, coupled with Florida’s inability to prevent big plays on the back end, make it safe to think we’re looking at a 49-21 or 56-21 type game, which will get over the Las Vegas number.