Vanderbilt vs. Florida
Saturday, 04-November-2006—11:30 AM CST
Radio: WGFX 104.5 FM & Eight Affiliates + Sirius Radio
TV: Lincoln Financial SEC Game of the Week
Weather Forecast: A chilly morning will gradually give way to a beautiful, sunny autumn day. Temperatures will start in the low 30's and rise to the low 50's by game time. The high temperature should top out in the low 60's by the fourth quarter. If you are still tailgating after the game, expect temperatures to dip back into the 50's by 4 PM.
Vanderbilt 1-4 in the SEC, 4-5 Overall
Florida 5-1 in the SEC, 7-1 overall
This is the 40th game in the series. Florida leads the series 28 games to nine with two ties. Florida has won the last 15 games between the two schools. Vandy enjoyed home success in this series over a 20-year period between 1968 and 1988. The Commodores were 3-0-1 in this score. In 1968, the teams played to a 14-14 tie in a turnover-plagued game. Vandy scored a touchdown late in the game, and head coach Bill Pace chose to go for the tie rather than gamble for two. Vandy caught fire after that game and won three consecutive games to clinch a winning season for the first time in nine years.
In 1974, the Commodores upset a top 10-ranked Gators team by a score of 24-10. A week after facing Alabama's wishbone offense and holding the Tide to 23 points, Coach Steve Sloan's defense held Florida's version of the wishbone in check all day.
In 1982, Coach George MacIntyre's Commodores upset the Gators 31-29 thanks to a freak, offensive fumble recovery several yards forward in the orange and blue end zone. The win started the Commodores on a track to an 8-3 regular season, the last winning campaign in Commodore history.
In 1988, quarterback Eric Jones piloted a strong and balanced offensive attack and the black and gold shut down Emmitt Smith as Coach Watson Brown's team pulled off a 24-9 upset on regional television.
When Vanderbilt Runs The Ball
Florida has given up 100 rushing yards to just two of their eight opponents. In the opening game, Southern Mississippi rushed for 119 yards. In the loss to Auburn, the Gators gave up 133 rushing yards on 40 attempts (3.3 avg). In the other six games, the orange and blue have relinquished just 47.7 rushing yards (1.9 avg) per game.
Vanderbilt is going to face a run defense every bit as strong as the one they faced against Michigan. Expect similar or marginally better statistics this week than the Gold Men churned out in Ann Arbor. Maybe, one run of 20+ yards will allow the black and gold to rush for more yards than they did against the now number two Wolverines.
For Vanderbilt to have any serious chance of pulling off the upset, they will need to run the ball about 32 times for 125 yards. That seems to be the magic number to beat the Gators.
When Florida Runs The Ball
The strengths of the old single wing, double wing, and short punt formations were power and deception in the rushing attack. This Gator offense is a close cousin of those old offenses. When Tim Tebow is in the game, Vanderbilt must be prepared to stop all the old direct snap plays from yesteryear. Tebow will run the line buck, mostly between the left guard and left tackle or just outside the left tackle. He can hand off to tailback DeShawn Wynn going off tackle and fake the dive the other way (all that's missing is a spin to make it authentic single wing). He can hand off to Andre Caldwell or Percy Harvin on speed sweeps (the equivalent of the old wingback reverse). The Commodores also have to be on the lookout for the jump pass off buck action.
When starter Chris Leak is in the game, the Gators are a wide-open perimeter-oriented team that can threaten back to the inside with counters and cutbacks. Leak isn't going to remind anybody of Tommy Frazier and rush for 100 yards, but he can read the option well enough to pick up the occasional five yard gain.
If the Gators run the ball 30-35 times and gain 150 yards or more, they will have a happy afternoon. With 150 yards rushing, they would have to cough up the ball two or three times into the hands of Commodores. A realistic goal for the Commodores is to hold Florida to 30 rushes for 120 yards.
When Vanderbilt Throws The Ball
Nickson will have to enjoy a day similar to the one he had last week for Vandy to keep this one close. The Gators are not as tough against the pass as they are against the run, but they will not lie down and give the Commodores the 12 to 15-yard patterns. Half of the Gators' opponents have topped 200 yards passing, but none of these teams won. Auburn threw for 182 yards.
Earl Bennett will need to come up with similar statistics to last year's Florida game (6 receptions for 75 yards and two touchdowns), while Sean Walker, Marlon White, and George Smith will need to combine for 100 or more receiving yards. I think they will come up short (less than 175 passing yards) because the Gator pass rush will force Nickson out of the pocket too many times.
When Florida Throws The Ball
Vanderbilt must come up with a tough pass rush and get to Leak 10 times. They need to sack him at least twice and force him to get rid of the ball early the other eight times. If the Vandy defense can force two interceptions and return both of them into Gator territory, they will give the offense a chance to score 20 points and be in the game in the fourth quarter. If Leak has no trouble spotting secondary receivers, it is going to be a long afternoon for the home team's fans.
Tebow should not be a factor here, but he could pad his passing stats if Florida Coach Urban Meyer pulls his starters in the fourth quarter.
I don't think Vandy has an answer for the combination of Dallas Baker, JeMalle Cornelius, Caldwell, and Harvin. Their speed will force the secondary to allow a little more cushion. Expect Caldwell to have one of his best games of the season catching the ball in the seams. Just one long gainer could spell doom for Vandy.
Special Teams Play
I think this will be a wash. Vanderbilt will start possessions with better field position than Florida. The Gators' kickoffs will come down near the 10 yard line, and most Commodore returns should pass the 25-yard line. The problem is that Vanderbilt could enjoy that benefit too many times.
Florida should benefit by about five yards every time there is an exchange of punts, but Vanderbilt has a clear advantage if the game comes down to a field goal battle (such as overtime). Of course, Gator kicker Chris Hetlund is capable of coming out of his funk at any time. He was 13 of 16 last year, including five of six from 40 yards or more.
PiRate: Florida 28 Vanderbilt 14
Vanderbuilder's Guess: Florida 27 Vanderbilt 10
Average of 52 Computer Rankings: Florida by 16 points. All 52 predict Florida to win the game by a range of six to 27 points. The large majority of ratings predict Florida to win by 15 to 20 points with a median of 17 points.
Vanderbilt finds itself a little overmatched this weekend. Florida is a solid team that is superior in talent to Vandy at most of the spots where a Gator will line up opposite a Commodore. The Commodores continue to weaken in depth every week thanks to having no off week. What was supposed to be a week where the starters could rest in the final 20 minutes at Duke turned into a game where the Gold Men were pushed to the limits.
Vanderbilt has some revenge to hype them, but unless this factor leads to a quick score early in the game, I don't see it affecting the outcome.
Chris Nickson cannot be expected to rush for 150 yards in this game and will be lucky to pick up 50 yards. Cassen Jackson-Garrison and Jared Hawkins won't see many open holes when they run into the line. This just doesn't look like a favorable contest for the Vandy offense. Florida's defense is nasty against the LSU's and Tennessee's of the world, so the Commodores should not be expected to perform any better, and probably perform worse than the Tigers or Vols.
Defensively, the Commodores will have to pick their poison. They cannot stop both the Gator running and passing games. Team speed will be a major decisive factor in this contest, and Florida will break off a long run or pass due to an advantage here.
If the Commodores are to have any chance of staying close Saturday, they will have to dominate the special teams play and force at least two turnovers in Gator territory.
I see the Gators getting a 10 to 14-point lead before halftime and then playing a little more conservatively in the second half. Florida is virtually unbeatable when they give up less than 20 points; they have lost just once in the last 17 years when a team scored less than 20 (October 5, 2002, at Ole Miss). I cannot see a scenario in which Vandy will top 20 points without achieving the special teams and turnover requirements I mentioned above. Odds are quite slim that they will return even one punt for 10 yards, and Leak is a seasoned star who will not rattle and throw the ball to the wrong-colored jersey. Call it a 27-10 win for Florida, meaning they will only need to beat South Carolina next week to advance to the SEC Championship game.