Florida vs. Vanderbilt: Prediction and preview
Florida and Vanderbilt enter their annual meeting each coming off an important win over a division foe.
The Gators secured bowl eligibility by getting to 6-4 under first-year coach Billy Napier with a 38-6 Senior Day blowout win over South Carolina, its second-consecutive conference victory.
The Commodores are still fighting to go bowling at 4-6 on the year. Vandy gave second-year coach Clark Lea his first SEC win with a 24-21 stunning road upset of then-No. 24 Kentucky.
The Dores could really turn some heads if they can make it back-to-back SEC wins, but they’re set to host a Florida squad that is playing some of its best football right now.
Saturday’s game in Nashville is set for noon ET on the SEC Network.
Florida vs. Vanderbilt preview
Florida could have easily quit on the 2022 season when it fell behind to Georgia 28-3. Though the Gators ultimately lost the rivalry clash 42-20, they finished October by showing some fight before playing inspired football in November.
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A defense that struggled to get stops all season has recently turned things around. Florida enters Saturday’s game having not allowed an offensive score in the last 6 quarters of play. (South Carolina’s special teams unit scored a touchdown.)
The Gators have also put up their 2 highest point totals of the season against FBS opponents, following up a 41-point outing at Texas A&M with 38 points against South Carolina.
It all starts on the ground for the Florida offense. The Gators have 3 of the SEC’s top rushers in yards per carry with Anthony Richardson (No. 2, 6.61), Trevor Etienne (No. 4, 6.37) and Montrell Johnson Jr. (No. 7, 6.12). Before a second-half sack of Richardson, all 3 were in the triple digits against the Gamecocks.
Vanderbilt has allowed 4.76 yards per rush this season, which ranks next-to-last among SEC teams. Kentucky’s Chris Rodriguez finished with 162 yards on 18 carries, with a long of 72 yards, against the Dores.
In his first season as the starting quarterback, Richardson has been an inconsistent passer. Richardson was 11-of-23 passing against South Carolina, bringing his completion percentage down to 55 for the year.
Despite Richardson’s issues with accuracy and touch, opposing defenses have to respect the big-play capability. When the ground game is effective, the passing attack has done enough to make sure drives end in points on the board. Richardson hasn’t thrown an interception in over a month, passing for 6 TDs over the last 4 games.
Vanderbilt defeated Kentucky by winning the key battles we hear so much about every game from coaches and commentators: running the ball, defending the pass and winning the battle on 3rd down.
The Commodores ran the ball 44 times on the Wildcats, gaining 264 yards. RB Ray Davis had the heaviest workload, with 26 carries for 129 yards and a touchdown. QB Mike Wright added 11 carries for 126 yards and a TD.
Kentucky, with star QB Will Levis, was limited to just 109 passing yards against Vandy. Levis was 11-of-23 with an interception and no touchdowns.
The Dores converted 11-of-17 3rd downs against Kentucky. UK, meanwhile, only went 4-of-12 on 3rd down offensively.
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Third-down defense has been an issue for Florida this year, but the Gators have seemingly turned the corner since the first half of play ended in College Station.
In the Vanderbilt passing game, Will Sheppard is the receiver to watch. Sheppard has 9 touchdowns on the year, second in the SEC to only Tennessee WR Jalin Hyatt (15). A junior, Sheppard averages 5 catches a game for just over 70 yards.
Florida vs. Vanderbilt prediction
Napier’s job was made easier this week by Vanderbilt’s upset win over Kentucky. The Gators, after all, could not beat the Wildcats in The Swamp. They have no excuse to be overlooking a Commodore squad out to prove last week wasn’t just a fluke win.
UF is playing well and looking to finish strong going into bowl season. The Gators’ winning streak should get to 3 on Saturday.
Prediction: Florida 30, Vanderbilt 13