Sure, the game was closer than most thought. And, the Gators won't have time to correct all of the mistakes they made before boarding the charter for Columbia next week. But, sometimes, you just have to tip your hat to the opponent and chalk this up for the being a great Southeastern Conference football game.
Injuries aside, this was good for Florida, as Coach Urban Meyer pointed out in his post game press conference. Five starters went out with injuries and people needed to step up, and they did. Gone are the days of collapsing when the going got tough. Just as they did against Tennessee and Georgia, the Gators finished. This has been the Meyer mantra since his arrival ten months ago.
Perhaps best of all was the fashion in which they finished. Overtime game just one week removed from an upset of a fourth ranked bitter rival and defending conference champion. And they did so with reserves Reggie Lewis, Kenneth Tookes, and a pair of freshmen Markus Manson and Kestahn Moore taking over for DeShawn Wynn at running back.
An Old Fashioned Shootout
The play of Chris Leak was outstanding. Last weekend, he played a solid first half and managed a good game in the second half. Tonight, albeit against a Vanderbilt defense, Leak demonstrated that he is making strides running the ball and taking it when it is open. He still hesitates at times and opts for the wrong lane, but there is no question that the light came on.
Yes, Leak was the Gators leading rusher. Stranger yet, Leak was the games' leading rusher. That wouldn't at all have been a surprise if Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler had accounted for a majority of the Commodores yardage on the ground. But, Cutler did his damage via air mail. In fact, he finished with -2 yards net rushing, a mere 69 behind Leak, who averaged 5.6 yards per carry. Reserve quarterback Josh Portis, who is brought in specifically to run the football, had three carries for four yards.
Leak hit 32 of 41 passes for 257 yards and three touchdowns. He controlled the football and took advantage of the soft zone that Vanderbilt employed without trying to force the ball deep. His long pass was a 16 yards reception by running back Markus Manson.
Vanderbilt quarterback Jay Cutler was particularly effective shredding a Florida secondary after cornerback Vernell Brown was lost in the first half. Brown was the first to pick off a Cutler pass. The senior from Santa Claus, Indiana must have felt like the bearded one made an early delivery as he completed 28 of 42 for 361 yards and four touchdowns.
Tough Day at Corner
It really didn't seem to matter for those who lined up at cornerback. It was one tough day. Florida's Dee Webb got caught looking into the backfield on several plays that resulted in keeping Vanderbilt drives alive.
Hero Reggie Lewis had been practicing all week at nickel back. When his number was called he was obviously rusty. Lewis was schooled by Vanderbilt wide receiver Marlon White turned him around for a big 30 yard gain to the Florida 14 yard line. Lewis was flagged for holding twice more in coverage against White before the game would be over.
It was only fitting that a cornerback pick up some much needed glory by securing the game winning interception after such a dismal performance.
The Dynamic Duo
Markus Manson and Kesthan Moore combined for 79 yards on the ground, while adding nine receptions for 78 yards receiving in place of the injured DeShawn Wynn. Moore hauled in a nine yard touchdown pass from Leak. Manson scored on a two yard run for the Gators final touchdown in regulation. He also added another 70 yards in returns.
The extent of Wynn's should injury is unknown. Manson and Moore provide Florida with speed and quickness to hit the hole. Moore demonstrated the ability to lower his pads and inflict some pain during a run in the second half.
Linebacker Brandon Siler recovered a pair of fumbles tonight. Siler had already collected an SEC best four fumbles prior to tonight's kickoff. The Orlando native is a large part of Florida's +17 turnover ratio.
Siler is tied for second on the team with 52 tackles, including seven tackles for loss and three sacks. He has six quarterback hurries and has broken up three passes.
Vanderbilt Pass Protection
A maligned Vanderbilt offensive line that had given up ten sacks in their past two games clearly benefited from two weeks to rest. As a whole, the Commodores had their legs, but credit the Vandy coaching staff and players for giving quarterback Jay Cutler the one thing he so desperately required, time to find an open receiver.
The Commodores allowed the league leading Gators just one sack, which will raise their total to 26 on the year, and drop them behind South Carolina. Furthermore, this was the second consecutive game the Gators recorded only one sack. After averaging nearly 3.5 per game, Florida will have to manufacture new ways to get pressure on the quarterback.