Alabama 28-13, LSU 23-10, and Georgia 21-14. Their lone loss came at the hands of Auburn 27-17. Head coach Urban Meyer is in his second season in Gainesville after coaching at Bowling Green and Utah. His career record is 55-12 (82.1%), which places him third nationally among coaches with five or more seasons.
This group of Gators will not remind anyone of the Fun and Gun offenses during the Steve Spurrier tenure. However, in some ways, the current Florida offense may be more conducive to winning consistently. Not only do the Gators move the ball equally well via land and air, they let their defense stay on the sidelines for long stretches. Additionally, opponents must prepare for two distinctly different quarterbacks. One can get to the perimeter in a hurry and throw accurately on the run, while the other reminds old-time football followers of Bobby Douglass or Larry Csonka.
Let's take a look at Florida's statistics to date:
Scoring: 26.5 points per game ranks 5th in the SEC and 43rd of 119 in Division I-A
Rushing Average: 150.5 yards per game (4.6 avg) ranks 5th in the SEC, 39th in Division I-A
Passing Average: 227.3 yards per game ranks 4th in the SEC, 35th in Division I-A. The Gators are completing 62.3% of their passes and averaging 8.5 yards per pass attempt (quite impressive).
Passing Efficiency: 153.51 ranks 3rd in the SEC and 12th in Division I-A
Total Yardage: 384.8 yards per game ranks 3rd in the SEC and 31st in Division I-A
QB Sacks allowed: 13 sacks in 8 games ranks 6th in the SEC and 42nd in Division I-A
Turnover Margin: +2 in 8 games ranks 4th in the SEC and 44th in Division I-A
Breakdown by Position
Dallas Baker (6-03, 207 Sr.) leads the Gators with 37 receptions, 596 yards, and six touchdown receptions. He is on the Biletnikoff Award Watch List. Baker was the MVP of last year's Outback Bowl game. He is the type of player that makes Chris Leak and Tim Tebow better passers, as he will grab onto any ball that comes remotely close to his hands.
Jemalle Cornelius (5-11, 185 Sr.) is the big deep threat. This season, he has caught just 18 passes, but he has averaged nearly 19 yards per catch and scored three touchdowns. His best games have come against teams that the Gators are clearly superior to in talent. He disappears against good defenses.
Andre Caldwell (6-01, 203 Jr.) is the hard-nosed receiver who runs the tough routes in the crowd. When the Gators must pass at the goal line, he will be the one Leak or Tebow looks for first. He tallied two touchdowns last week against Georgia. Vanderbilt will have to watch for him going into motion and running the speed sweep. He's been quite effective doing that this season, averaging over eight yards per carry.
Percy Harvin (5-11, 180 True Fr.) was an even higher-rated recruit coming out of high school than Tim Tebow (Scout.com rated him number one receiver and number two overall). Like Caldwell, Harvin can run the ball on the speed sweep, and he has been a true weapon running the ball, averaging almost nine yards per attempt. As a receiver, he is another deep threat like Cornelius. He has caught 10 passes for 163 yards.
Florida doesn't always use a tight end in their offense. When they do, Tate Casey (6-7, 240 Jr.) and Cornelius Ingram (6-4, 230 So.) split time there. Casey is more of a blocker who provides an occasional big target as a secondary receiver. He has five catches for 53 yards and a score. Ingram is more of a receiver who can throw a block in the secondary. He has 10 grabs for 113 yards and a score
This figured to be the one question mark of the team prior to the beginning of the season, but the interior line has done yeomen's work.
Center Steve Rissler (6-3, 310 Jr.) is solid but not spectacular. He came to Gainesville highly touted, but he does not rank among the top half of centers in the SEC.
The guard positions are the best part of this line. Left guard Jim Tartt (6-3, 315 So.) has developed quickly into a fine all-around blocker, and he could be an NFL-caliber player in two more years. Right guard Drew Miller (6-5, 310 Jr.) is one of the better pass blockers in the league.
Left Tackle Phil Trautwein (6-6, 308 Jr.) is a better run blocker than pass blocker. When Florida needs to convert on 3rd and five or less, look for the Gators to run this way behind him and guard Tartt. Tebow has made a living running in that gap.
The Gators are one of the few teams that affectively use two quarterbacks every game. A generation ago, many teams successfully used two quarterbacks, one who was a better passer and one who was a better runner. Chris Leak (6-0, 207 Sr.) is a first day draft choice in next year's NFL draft. He's completing 61.7% of his passes good for 8.3 yards per attempt and 16 touchdowns. He doesn't look like a wishbone quarterback, but he can run the spread option. The only game where he laid an egg was the loss to Auburn.
Tim Tebow (6-3, 229 True Fr.) is going to be another big star in this league. He lines up in the shotgun and runs the old-fashioned direct snap line blast inside his tackles. Opposing teams know the play is coming, and they cannot stop it; it's just like Dizzy Dean who used to tell opposing batters the type of pitch he would throw to strike them out. Tebow has run the ball 50 times for 282 yards and four touchdowns. As a passer, he is most famous for the jump pass he threw for a touchdown against LSU, but he's much more than just that one toss. Tebow has completed 71.4% of his passes for 10.9 yards per attempt and two scores. His only real weakness is his propensity for fumbling the ball.
Florida has been using a fullback more and more as the season progresses. Billy Latsko (5-10, 232 Sr.) is a tank with feet. He is strictly a lead blocker and pass protector, who will occasionally slip out of the backfield and catch a pass. Latsko has a couple of receptions for 21 yards.
DeShawn Wynn (5-11, 238 Sr.) gets most of the touches at tailback, He has carried the pig 83 times for 436 yards (5.3 avg) so far this season. He has one 100-yard game this year (against Kentucky), but he has had to share the load with quarterbacks and receivers.
Kestann Moore (5-10, 212 So.) is a breakaway threat every time he touches the ball, but he is also a threat to fumble the ball if popped hard. The anomaly here is that he is an excellent pass catcher who doesn't drop many balls.
The Gators are tough on this side of the ball. Teams don't run against them with much success, and only the best quarterbacks can succeed much with the pass. The Gators may risk a few extra completions in order to get a better pass rush. They haven't been burned often.
Here is a look at Florida's defensive statistics for the season:
Scoring Defense: 12.3 points per game allowed ranks 2nd in the SEC and 6th in Division I-A
Vs. The Run: 67.3 yards allowed per game (2.5 avg) ranks 1st in the SEC and 5th in Division I-A
Vs. The Pass: 193.8 yards allowed per game ranks 9th in the SEC and 52nd in Division I-A. The Gators allow 54.0% of enemy passes to be completed and allow just 5.4 yards per pass attempt. They have intercepted 4.6% of enemy passes.
Quarterback Sacks: Florida has recorded 23 sacks in eight games which ranks 2nd in the SEC and 21st overall.
Opp. Passing Efficiency: 95.19 ranks 2nd in the SEC and 5th in Division I-A
Opp. Total Offense: 261.0 yards ranks 2nd in the SEC and 9th in Division I-A
Tackles For Loss: The Gators have recorded 45 TFLs this season which ranks 8th in the SEC and 62nd in Division I-A
Turnover Margin: +.25 per game ranks 4th in the SEC and 44th in Division I-A
This is the top defensive line in the conference. Not many teams will run the ball successfully against this fearsome foursome.
Defensive end Jarvis Moss (6-6, 251 Jr.) is on his way to an All-SEC season, and he could figure highly in both the Lombardi and Hendricks Awards voting. Moss leads the linemen with 32 tackles. 4.5 of those stops have been for losses, with 3.5 of those being sacks; he's also registered a team-leading eight QB hurries. Moss brought down Georgia quarterback Matthew Stafford and forced him to lose the ball on a fumble last week.
Opposite side terminal Ray McDonald (6-3, 280 Sr.) is another possible all-conference player. He is coming off an excellent game against Georgia, where he tallied his first collegiate touchdown on a fumble return. McDonald has made 23 stops thus far, four for losses with three of them sacks.
Tackle Marcus Thomas (6-3, 296 Sr.) has missed a couple of games due to injury, but he too could earn some form of All-SEC honors. Thomas has 26 tackles, 5.5 of them behind the line of scrimmage and four sacks.
Tackle Joe Cohen (6-2, 296 Sr.) has the least impressive stats of the front four, but he is no slouch. Cohen has 16 tackles thus far.
Weak-side linebacker Earl Everett (6-3, 234 Sr.) is one of the big three outside linebackers in the league (Ali Highsmith and Will Herring are the other two). He leads the Gators with 51 stops including four for losses. He's broken up two passes and forced quarterbacks to hurry four times. He was a one-man terror against Tennessee, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors after making 11 tackles.
Middle linebacker Brandon Siler (6-2, 235 Jr.) takes a back seat only to Ole Miss MLB Patrick Willis. He will be a first day draft choice if he comes out early. Siler is coming off an excellent game against Georgia after making six tackles, a sack, and breaking up a pass. He is second on the team with 49 tackles and is tied for first with seven TFLs.
Strong-side linebacker Brian Crumm (6-3, 225 Sr.) is overshadowed by the other two members of this unit, but he can make big plays. He has 21 tackles with 2.5 going for losses.
The back four is the weakest defensive unit, but the starting quartet is still one of the three best in the league. All four have at least two interceptions, and they account for all 13 pickoffs this year.
Strong safety Tony Joiner (6-0, 208 Jr.) is third on the team with 47 tackles. He has 4.5 tackles for loss. Of his five passed defended, two of them are interceptions.
Free safety Reggie Nelson (6-1, 193 Jr.) has four interceptions this season, which ties him for second best in the SEC. One of those picks went back for a touchdown against Alabama. He has 31 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Cornerback Ryan Smith (5-10, 165 Jr.) is small enough to disappear in the secondary. Combine that with blazing speed, and you can see why he leads the SEC with five interceptions and has eight passes defended.
Cornerback Reggie Lewis (5-10, 196 Sr.) has two interceptions and four broken up passes. One of those picks came against Georgia last week.
The Gators have one Achilles heel. Place kicker Chris Hetland has converted just one of seven field goal attempts, that one from just 22 yards. He's also missed three extra point attempts.
Florida's punt unit is one of the best in the nation. Punter Eric Wilbur averages 44 yards per boot, and the Gators have a net punting average of 38.2 yards. Opponents have returned 12 punts for just 38 yards.
Florida has a half dozen players capable of blocking a punt or place kick. Vandy will have to insure their kickers get maximum protection.
The Gator return games have not made any major plays this year, but they have the overall talent to break one eventually.
This will be the second best team Vanderbilt has faced this season, and the Gators are not that much weaker than Michigan. This time, the Commodores will be in much worse shape than they were on opening week, as injuries and fatigue have accumulated. Florida is loaded on both sides of the ball, and the Gators have a fine combination of speed and strength. Vanderbilt may be outmanned in this contest if the Gators click on all cylinders.
For an in-depth comparison of the teams and prediction of the outcome, check back Friday morning.
For Comparison Purposes, here's how Vandy ranks in the offensive and defensive statistical categories. The first number in parentheses represents SEC rank and the second number represents D1A rank.
Scoring Offense: 23.2 ppg (9 & 66)
Rushing Offense: 157.6 yds per game (4 & 38) and 4.8 avg (5.3 w/out sacks)
Passing Offense: 173.8 yds per game (10 & 86)
54.3% completions and 6.7 yards per attempt
Passing Efficiency: 120.2 (9 & 72)
QB Sacks Allowed: 14 in 9 games (5 & 40)
Total Offense: 331.3 yds per game (9 & 70)
Turnover Margin: 0 (6 & 59)
Scoring Defense: 20.2 ppg (9 & 51)
Rushing Defense: 163.8.7 yds per game (10 & 95) and 4.1 yards allowed per rush
Passing Defense: 155.8 yds per game (2 & 13)
Allows 55.7% completions and 7.3 yards per attempt
Passing Efficiency Defense: 124.5 (9 & 63)
QB Sacks: 16 in 9 games (9 & 75)
Total Defense: 319.6 (9 & 56)
TFL: 48 in nine games (10 & 77)