The defense slipped up for one play on Saturday. However, it was a big one -- a 74-yard run by sophomore Ralph Webb that gave the Commodores a 7-6 lead at halftime. The feeling throughout the second half was that if the Gators could just get on the scoreboard and take the lead back, they’d be in good shape trusting their defense to gut out the win.
The Florida defense showed why that was true. The Gators allowed just 175 yards of total offense with 145 coming on the ground and 30 coming through the air. Ignore the long Webb touchdown run and the Gators allowed 1.7 yards per play.
Vanderbilt made it clear early in the game that it didn’t have much of an intention to throw the football. Quarterback Johnny McCrary came into the game with seven interceptions over his previous 79 throws, and the Commodores were intent to try to find something in the running game. When they took a lead, it was even more obvious that Vanderbilt wouldn’t be thrown. McCrary ended the game 3-14 through the air, and seven of those attempts came on the final drive. Of his 30 passing yards, 21 came on Vanderbilt’s final play when the Gators gave up a short throw to keep the Commodores from converting a 4th and 25.
Even with the Florida offense sputtering throughout the game, the defense knew it could keep the team in the game.
“I think no matter what’s going on with (the offense), that’s how it goes,” Florida defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard said. “That’s what we want to do. We try not to worry about what they’re doing. I know that they’re going to give us their all. It wasn’t their best performance, but you’ve got to back each other up. Sometimes we don’t have our best performance, and they put points on the board. When they’re not having theirs, we’ve got to stop people. That’s just teamwork. That’s how it works.”
Bullard was one of three Florida defensive linemen that dominated Saturday. The senior had five tackles, including 2.5 tackles for a loss. Bryan Cox, Jr. led the team with nine tackles and had a sack. When the Commodores did decide to throw, it was Alex McCalister that served as the difference maker. McCalister had four tackles, but 3.5 of them went for a loss with 2.5 sacks.
On a defense with talented players all over the field, it was the defensive line that had to dominate on Saturday against Vanderbilt’s run-heavy approach.
"They were beating them to the punch,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “The penetration I thought really caused them problems. The relentless play, I just talked to our guys about it. Just go win this play and don’t think about it. I think offensively, they were thinking ahead or behind or whatever. They weren’t just focusing on “win that play,” and I think our defense did. I don’t care what happened. Just go win that play. Whatever happened, that’s done. Just go win that next play. Their mindset moving forward with that was really good. It’s great to see."
The halftime run forced the defense to refocus at halftime. They talked about not playing up to their standard, even though 74 of the 122 yards allowed came on one play. The defense knew it was going to be one of those games where they needed to carry the team.
They’ve had plenty of them in recent years, and Saturday was no different.
“It was really upsetting to have that (long touchdown run) happen to us,” Florida linebacker Jarrad Davis said. “It just drove us even more. It made us realize you can’t take plays off. You can’t take anything off because anything can happen. We knew when we saw that happen, it’s not going to happen again. We made sure that it did not happen again.”