No. 4 Gators remember scare from Vandy last season
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The fourth-ranked Florida Gators remember only too well how close Vanderbilt came to knocking them off last season in The Swamp.
The Commodores rallied with three touchdowns in the second half before Florida pulled out a 26-21 win last November, and Gators cornerback Jaylen Watkins said Vanderbilt is a sneaky good team.
"It lets you know this is not a joke week or anything like that,'' Watkins said. "We've got to play or something bad will happen.''
Overlooking a program the Gators (5-0, 4-0) have beaten 21 straight games would be understandable, especially with Florida hosting No. 3 South Carolina on Oct. 20 followed by the annual showdown in Jacksonville with No. 14 Georgia. It's a three-game stretch that could put the Gators atop the SEC East on the road back to Atlanta for the conference championship.
Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel said the Gators understand that every SEC game is big going into Saturday night's game with Vanderbilt (2-3, 1-2).
"You can't take anybody lightly because anybody can beat you,'' Driskel said. "This league is full of players and full of athletes, and they're going to be well-coached and ready to go. So we can't take this week off or take it lightly. We're going to prepare like we have been the whole year, and we'll be ready to go Saturday.''
The Commodores have strong memories of their last game with Florida as well, a game that drove home the need to start better and finish strong.
"This year we're just going to come out, play well and finish,'' Vanderbilt senior defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. "It's just about finishing, and that's kind of the mentality our defense has taken. We can't give up plays at the end of the first half and end of the fourth quarter.''
Florida is coming off a strong 14-6 win over LSU, while the Commodores got a big boost with a 19-15 win at Missouri that was their first road win since 2010. The win combined with hosting the fourth-ranked Gators helped Vanderbilt sell out for the first time since Florida's visit in 2008.
Now coach James Franklin wants to see his Commodores go play well Saturday night.
"Selling out is great, but we have to put a product on the field that people can be excited about and that people want to keep coming back see,'' Franklin said.
Both Florida coach Will Muschamp and Franklin are in their second seasons, though Franklin's job of rebuilding is much bigger at a program he took to only its fifth bowl game ever in 2011. The Gators won their third national championship in 2008.
"I think he did a fantastic job last year,'' said Muschamp, who has coached at Franklin when both previously worked elsewhere. "You turn the tape on you see guys playing fast, hard and physical. Multiple offensively. Bob Shoop does a great job defensively attacking, and what they do on special teams ... there's no question that's James' personality written all over it.''
Franklin is just as complimentary of the Gators. He said many defensive coaches try to take away one piece of an offense yet Florida takes everything away with a defense ranked 12th nationally allowing 284 yards. The Gators, playing their last SEC game this season away from Florida, haven't allowed a touchdown in two straight games or a single point in the fourth quarter this season.
"You get 3 yards in this game on a run you're happy with it,'' Franklin said. "You're going to have to keep grinding it out, and you're going to have to make plays down the field.''
Vanderbilt's best chance is giving Jordan Rodgers enough time to throw down field to Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd, the SEC's top duo averaging 170.8 yards receiving per game. Matthews leads the SEC averaging seven catches per game and is second with 97.2 yards receiving. He had 170 yards receiving against Florida last season.
Watkins also remembers the trouble Matthews gave the Florida secondary, and he said they look at it as another challenge. Rodgers also is a threat to run just like Driskel, and the Commodores use a lot of misdirection and trick plays. Watkins trusts the Gators' defensive line to contain Rodgers.
The Commodores know what to expect from Florida with the Gators and running back Mike Gillislee averaging 214.8 yards rushing per game. That's third-best in the SEC and 24th nationally. Driskel is completing 69.2 percent of his passes when he does throw, and Franklin said that's why Vanderbilt can't simply load up near the line of scrimmage.
"They're 5-0 for a reason,'' Franklin said.
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