Harvin Leads Gators past Vandy

It's a pretty simple formula – a tremendous offense combined with solid defense will win football games. That's how the Florida Gators stayed in the race for the SEC East title with a 49-22 victory over Vanderbilt in front of a Homecoming crowd of 90,222 on Saturday.

Tim Tebow rushed for only one yard in the first half, but it was his left arm that carried the Gators to a big halftime lead. The sophomore quarterback was near perfect, connecting on 19-of-22 passes in the first 30 minutes for 262 yards and three touchdowns. Percy Harvin rushed for 84 yards and caught another eight passes for 105 yards in the first half alone, but it was the Gator defense that shined.

For the first time all season, the Gators deferred after winning the coin toss and let the defense go on the field first. It was the same defense that allowed Auburn, LSU and Georgia to fourth quarter touchdowns, leading to three loses for the Gators before November. But in an effort to make a statement, Meyer let the defense set the tone for the game but not without some hesitation at first.

"I've known these coaches for a long time," Meyer said. "I looked them straight in the eyes and saw the back of their heads. They got them off the field and did a good job."

The Gator defense allowed just one first down during Vandy's first possession and forced them to punt. Once the Gator offense stepped on the field, it was over. It took just a three-minute drive for the Gators to put points on the board. All together, they had four scoring drives that lasted fewer than 90 seconds.

"That was a day that I did not anticipate," Meyer said. "That was he best Vandy team I've coached against in three years. They have good personnel everywhere. Our guys played very well."

Harvin was all over the place and became the first Gator ever to rush and receive more than 100 yards. Harvin carried 11 times picking up 113 yards and also pulled in nine catches for 110 yards. All in all, it was a pretty good day for the sophomore superstar.

"Percy Harvin is one of the most dynamic playmakers in the country," Meyer said. "He's strong, powerful and a heck of a football player."

With the SEC East on the line, Meyer is turning the fate of the Gators over to Harvin.

"This is it," he said. "There is no tomorrow. He's as good a runner as he is a receiver."

Harvin wasn't the only Gator receiver to have a big day. Caldwell also caught nine passes for 103 yards, including two touchdowns catches.

"It's good to have Bubba back," Meyer said. "That was the first time we've had him back at full speed and he was full speed at practice too."

But it was the defense that stole the show. After losing half of the defensive line to injury and having the secondary get exposed week after week, the defense finally came together and played a solid game. Florida held the Commodores to 255 total yards and picked off two passes.

"The last two years there have been some excellent defenses around here," Meyer said. "The national championship game was the best defense I have seen in professional sports. They set the standard and now everyone wants to see that standard. The energy level, the passion, the way they go after people, that's the standard that's been set and over the last few weeks I haven't seen it and a lot of people haven't seen it either."

After an embarrassing performance against Georgia last week, however, the defense accepted the challenge all week at practice and answered the call. Vanderbilt isn't the most talented team in the SEC offensively, but they do have one of the league's best offensive weapons in wide receiver Earl Bennett. The Gators held Bennett to only five receptions for 31 yards and kept Vanderbilt to less than 100 yards rushing.

A big part of that run defense was true freshman Michael Pouncey who made the switch from offensive guard to nose tackle at the beginning of the week.

"Defense is passion, it's emotion and it's guys running to the football and taking pride in not allowing big runs and those types of things," Meyer said. "When Brandon Siler left, he was the emotional leader of the defense. Brandon Spikes is getting better and I think Mike provided some of that today. We sat in his room last night for 15 minutes and he told me he wasn't going to be able to sleep because he was so excited for the game."

If there was one area where the Gators struggled on Saturday in was on kickoff coverage. Vandy returned five kicks for a total of 135 yards (27 yards/return). Meyer attributes the struggles to the amount of true freshmen on special teams.

"About half of them are true freshmen and they need to be playing, but we have to get them better," Meyer said. "We just don't have any alternatives, but I'm very disappointed in kickoff coverage."

The Gators now turn their attention to South Carolina. Two years ago, Florida had a chance to win the SEC East with a win in Columbia, but lost in Meyer's first trip.

"I think it's going to come down to that game," Meyer said. "Our team believes that. South Carolina is a heck of a team with a heck of a coach. It's going to be a great atmosphere. We simply want to compete for an SEC championship in November, and I believe we're doing that. It hasn't been a perfect year. There's been a bunch of bumps in the road, but to come out after it's been a rough month and play in The Swamp after not playing for 35 days and play with that kind of energy level and confidence and play together as a team, I was very proud of them."

Notes

  • The Gators chose to take the ball to start the second half, but didn't get the ball then either. Vandy recovered an onsides kick to start the third quarter. Said Meyer, "That was our fault. We thought they would sky it. We saw that on TV the other day and we warned them about that."
  • Defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap aggressively went after two Vanderbilt punts. Said Meyer, "I saw Dunlap play with some energy. He's kind of a sleeping giant. I saw him going after a punt on one play. He's a freak of nature once we get him heading in the right direction and playing with the right energy he'll be a difference maker."
  • Brandon James had both a punt return and kick return for more than 50 yards. Said Meyer, "Brandon James is one of the best weapons in college football. When you jog out there with the ball on the 35- or 40-yard line with some of the weapons we have that changes the game."

    Questions or comments? Contact FightinGators.com's Chris Chmielenski


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