Special teams changes game for Gators

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – With the offense and defense not clicking on all cylinders, the Gators found a secret weapon to secure a win over Vanderbilt. It came from the special teams in multiple ways. Kickoffs flipped field position, a blocked field goal saved points and a fake punt, after being stored away for weeks, was unleashed. The unit changed the game in Florida's 31-17 win over the Commodores.

The impact started on the opening drive of the second half. Vanderbilt marched down the field on the Florida defense, but a false start penalty and third-down sack by Josh Evans set up a field goal from the 27-yard line.

The kick would have cut the Florida lead to one point. Instead, defensive lineman Earl Okine broke through the line, stuck his hand up, and knocked it out of the sky. Vanderbilt had all the momentum after starting the half with a long drive, but Okine erased that with what Muschamp called ‘a huge swinging point in the game.'

"We've been practicing to get penetration, and on the third step, get your hands up," said Okine, who later added that Muschamp and Dan Quinn predicted before the game that Okine would block a kick. "And I jumped pretty high.

"(The coaches have) been preaching it. We take every part of the special teams seriously. We go out there like another defensive play."

It didn't look like the Gators would be able to take advantage of the momentum shift. After getting the ball back with good field position, the Florida offense sputtered on three plays and was set to punt the ball back to the Commodores.

That's when coach Will Muschamp started to sense the need for a spark.

He dialed up a play that the Florida special teams unit has been working on for weeks. The fake punt had Trey Burton set up as a blocker to guard the punter, but Solomon Patton came in motion and took a jet sweep to the corner.

What he saw couldn't have been any better.

"When I got it and looked up field, I saw so much grass and got so excited," Patton said. "I just took off up field."

Patton estimated the play being in the playbook for the last two weeks. The Gators expected to use it sooner, but the opportunity never presented itself.

"Every time they called punt on the sideline, I've been tuned in trying to see if they were going to call it," Patton said. "They finally called it."

The 54-yard return gave Florida the ball at the Vanderbilt three-yard line. After a holding play on first down, Driskel would score on a 13-yard touchdown run to give the Gators an 18-7 lead.

It wouldn't have happened without the blocking. The reason Patton saw so much grass when he grabbed the ball was because of Jon Bostic and Frankie Hammond. Both players made huge blocks that emptied the side of the field for Patton to breeze close to the end zone.

"We needed a spark," Muschamp said. "We were a little tired on defense and needed to flip the field. We needed a play and a little momentum. We were slipping. We need a chance of momentum."

After a Vanderbilt touchdown cut the Florida lead to 21-14 in the fourth quarter, Andre Debose flipped momentum one last time. He returned a kickoff to the Vanderbilt 37-yard line with a new design that the Gators decided to show off.

Florida's kick returns were mostly taken to the sideline and blocked that way early in the season. When Debose caught the return on Saturday, he cut it back to the middle of the field where his blockers were waiting.

"It flipped the field," Muschamp said. "They had all the momentum and that kind of good stuff, and we blocked it extremely well. It's something we've been working on. We've been basically a sideline return team.

"DJ (Durkin) did a nice job of coaching it up and bringing it back to the field. It was executed very well by our players."

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