Gators handle business against Vanderbilt

Treon Harris led a Florida offense with a nice poise from true freshman starting in his second game.

Treon Harris put to rest any questions that he could handle the passing in an expanded offensive package Saturday night at Vanderbilt. A week after a play package so conservative that he threw the ball only six times against Georgia, the playbook was opened up considerably and Harris responded like a veteran, throwing for 215 yards and running for 49 and two touchdowns to lead the Florida Gators (5-3, 4-3 SEC) to a 34-10 win over Vanderbilt (3-7, 0-6 SEC) in Nashville.

Vanderbilt stacked the box to prevent a repeat of last week’s 418-yard rushing performance by the Gators, electing to force Harris to make plays but the kid came through. Showing remarkable poise for a true freshman, Harris made solid decisions and didn’t turn the ball over. The Commodores gave Harris plenty of different looks and a variety of blitz packages but he never cracked under the pressure. He broke containment when necessary but mostly showed a willingness to hang in the pocket until he found an open receiver, hitting 13 of his 21 passes as the Gators used a balanced attack to rack up 429 yards while controlling the football for 72 plays and 35:01.

Speaking of Harris as he left the field, Florida coach Will Muschamp said, “He’s a very calm, cool competitor, mature beyond his years,” adding “he’s been overly coachable since he arrived on campus.”

Although Florida’s game plan was rather conservative – a 50-22 run-pass ratio – offensive coordinator Kurt Roper opened up the offense considerably more than he did against Georgia when the Gators ran the ball 60 times and threw the ball only once in the second half. Roper eased Harris into the passing game, three very safe pass calls in the first quarter but he gradually opened things up the rest of the way, allowing Harris to throw deep on five occasions. Harris completed long balls of 48 yards to Ahmad Fulwood and 60 to Quinton Dunbar while averaging 10.2 yards per pass attempt and spreading the ball around to eight different receivers.

Harris got plenty of help from Florida’s defense, which forced four Vanderbilt turnovers that led to 13 points. It was two first half turnovers that allowed the Gators to break a 7-7 tie and take a 17-7 lead into the halftime locker. The Gators got a touchdown by Jeff Driskel on a fourth down dive after Dante Fowler Jr. punched the ball loose from Vandy’s Ralph Webb and Jabari Gorman recovered at the Commodore nine. After Antonio Morrison forced another Webb fumble that Vernon Hargreaves III recovered at the VU 43, Frankie Velez knocked a 40-yard field goal through to expand the Florida lead to 10.

A Hargreaves interception in the fourth quarter led to a 25-yard field goal by Velez for Florida’s final score of the game.

The win kept the Gators hopes of emerging as the SEC East champion intact. A Florida win next week over South Carolina combined with a Georgia loss to Auburn and two losses by Missouri (one of which has to be Tennessee) will give the Gators their first SEC East title since 2009. It’s a scenario that requires a lot of help from a lot of people, but just two weeks ago a lot of media and fans alike had written off the Gators completely. Now they’ve won two in a row and look like a team that’s going to head into the FSU game on Thanksgiving weekend riding a four-game winning streak.

FIRST QUARTER

VANDERBILT 7, FLORIDA 0: On their second possession, the Commodores drove 86 yards in seven plays, taking the lead on a 33-yard touchdown pass from freshman quarterback Johnny McCrary to tight end Steve Scheu with 7:41 to go. Tommy Openshaw kicked the extra point to give Vandy a 7-0 lead. Key plays on the drive were a 14-yard McCrary to Scheu completion and a 15-yard personal foul penalty against Morrison.

FLORIDA 7, VANDERBILT 7: Florida had an answer for the Vandy touchdown. Jumpstarted by a couple of Vanderbilt penalties that added 20 yards of field position before they ever took a snap, the Gators went 10 plays for 65 yards, taking 4:07 off the clock, to tie the game. Harris had completions of 14 yards to Fulwood and six to Latroy Pittman on the drive, but the bulk of the hard work was done by Kelvin Taylor, who carried six times for 34 yards including the last 13 for the score. On the touchdown run, Taylor burst up the middle off the right hip of center Max Garcia, juked past Torren McGaster at the five and then broke hard right where he outran everyone into the end zone with 3:54 left in the quarter. Velez tied the game with his extra point.

SECOND QUARTER

FLORIDA 14, VANDERBILT 7: The Gators gambled twice on fourth down at the Vanderbilt one, missing on the first but taking the lead on the second when Driskel dived over the top of a pile at the goal and barely got the ball over the line. Just a couple of minutes before, the Gators had a first and goal at the Vandy four but couldn’t punch the ball in. Given new life when Webb had the ball punched loose by Fowler, the Gators needed four plays from the nine to score. On third and goal from the 10, Harris threw a 9-yard dart to Dunbar at the one. On fourth down, Driskel barely got the ball into the end zone to give the Gators the lead. Velez kicked the PAT with 8:38 to go for Florida’s first lead.

FLORIDA 17, VANDERBILT 7: A career-long 40-yard field goal by Velez with 4:02 left in the half extended Florida’s lead to 10 points. The Gators got the ball on another fumble by Webb, this one caused by Morrison and recovered by Hargreaves at the Vandy 43. It took the Gators four plays to get to the Vandy 18 but that’s where things stalled out, forcing Velez to come on to kick the field goal. On the 9-play scoring drive, Harris completed passes of 10 yards to Demarcus Robinson and 12 to Chris Thompson.

FOURTH QUARTER

FLORIDA 24, VANDERBILT 7: Florida’s 7-play, 84-yard scoring drive was all about Harris, who completed passes of 12 and 60 yards to Dunbar and ran seven yards for a touchdown with 14:51 remaining in the game. The 60-yard bomb to Dunbar set up the score, a third down rollout to the left that Harris turned upfield and sprinted into the end zone. Velez came on to extend the lead to 17 points.

VANDERBILT 10, FLORIDA 24: The Commodores put together their most successful drive since the first quarter to answer the Florida TD with a 48-yard field goal by Openshaw. A 41-yard McCrary to Davis Dudchock was the only positive play on the 5-play scoring drive, taking the ball to the Florida 28, but from there it was a 3-yard retreat that force a field goal attempt with 13:17 left in the game.

FLORIDA 31, VANDERBILT 10: On this 5-play, 66-yard scoring drive, Harris showed pocket presence, arm strength and very quick feet. It was on a 12-yard completion to Robinson that Harris hung in the pocket in the face of a fierce rush, stepped back a couple of feet and then snapped off a throw that was all wrist for the first down. Harris finished off the drive by taking it to the house from 33 yards out. A designed quarterback run, Harris took the ball up the gut, broke left off a block by Matt Jones and then split two defenders as he took the ball the final 15 yards. Velez made it 31-10 with 10:41 left in the game.

FLORIDA 34, VANDERBILT 10: Hargreaves came up with a textbook interception when he picked off McCrary at the Vandy 26 on the Commodores’ first offensive play after the kickoff return. The Gators ran Taylor three consecutive plays for 18 yards to the Vandy eight but on third and goal, Harris’ threw incomplete to Clay Burton, bringing on Velez to knock down a 25-yard field goal with 8:29 left in the game.


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