1) Stop the run – Fail
Vanderbilt was able to stop Florida from going off on the ground as they did against Georgia the week prior, but the Gators still rolled for 214 yards and four touchdowns in the run game. The defensive coaching staff knew going into the game that they would have to stop the run and make untested Gators quarterback Treon Harris throw the ball, but they were never able to quite shut down the run enough to make this challenge a reality.
This might actually be a little harsh on a defensive front which actually played really, really well and it is easy to argue that the front seven on defense was by far the best unit on the field for the ‘Dores on Saturday. The series of goal line stops either side of a Ralph Webb fumble, including a highly controversial fourth down touchdown, was the sort of inspiring defensive mentality and toughness which Derek Mason was supposed to be bringing with him from Stanford. We have not seen nearly enough of that kind of defense in Nashville this fall, but with work and intensity when backed up against the wall like that the signs are getting more promising.
2) Prevent big plays - Fail
It turns out that big plays, in a negative way, can happen just as much on offense as they can on defense. Vandy turned the ball over four times on Saturday evening curtesy of two Johnny McCrary interceptions and two Ralph Webb fumbles. Ironically the interceptions were not that much of a big deal as they both came in the fourth quarter with Vandy down by at least 21 and with McCrary suffering from shellshock after being hit all day on every drop back. The two fumbles on the other hand were huge plays.
The first was right after the Vandy defense had completed a momentum shifting goal line stand, stuffing running back Matt Jones for no gain on fourth down at the one yard line. Two plays later however Webb fumbled inside his own five, the Gators recovered, and the score became 14-7 and momentum had swung back to the visitors. To compound the issue Webb then fumbled again on the Commodores very next play from scrimmage and a Florida field goal gave the Gators a ten point lead which Vandy never got close to clawing back.
These fumbles were damaging enough in isolation, but it is the impact they had on the flow of the game which was the most telling. Before his fumbles Webb was running with reckless abandon, tearing and gashing through the Gators defense with no fear and getting Vandy moving forward. After the fumbles it was clear his confidence had gone. Webb was much more tentative in the hole, was not running as violently into contact, and became a much less effective player as a result. The fumbles were by far the biggest plays in the game.
3) Few three and outs on offense – Pass
This gets a pass as the ‘Dores actually only had three three-and-outs during the game. This does come with a bit of an asterisk as there were drives which consisted of two plays and a fumble, one play and a fumble, and one play and an interception in that mix as well. By and large though the Commodores did a good job of pinning Florida back by making some yardage before punting, flipping field position. This was especially true in the second half when the Gators were forced to start four of their six drives on their own 11, 16, 20, and 10 yard lines.
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