Florida football visits Vanderbilt on Saturday in Nashville. Here are your three keys to a Florida victory.
By Matt Zemek
The Florida Gators’ 1996 national championship team had one of the best offenses in college football that particular season. Yet, one of their toughest games and closest shaves came in a shaky 28-21 win over Vanderbilt. Even when Florida has been really good – as the Gators clearly are this year – Vanderbilt has sometimes become a thorny opponent. The Gators will try to avoid complacency and overconfidence as they go to Nashville for a game which seems easy on paper but has historically involved some plot twists.
1 – Put the hammer down against Anchor Down
Florida can do this the easy way or the hard way. A team intent on challenging Alabama for the SEC title will do things the easy way and show laser-like focus in handling its business. This is the kind of game in which a really good team will render a contest non-competitive by halftime, allowing its starters to rest up before the stretch run of the season while giving underclassmen and backups a chance to get live snaps. The best programs facilitate this kind of turnover and cycling, which serves every possible best interest for a team. Florida doesn’t want to mess around and get stuck in a dramatic second half in which starters have to push themselves. Efficiency is something to be prized in the weeks before a possible season-defining clash against Alabama in Atlanta.
2 – Defensive culture
The glaring and obvious weakness in Florida’s overall team profile remains the Gators’ defense, and more specifically, its penchant for giving up chunk plays. With Kyle Trask incinerating opposing defenses, this hasn’t really mattered, but against Alabama it certainly will. Florida’s defense has to develop better habits, and most of those habits need to be polished with the specific intent of limiting big plays. Dan Mullen is doing a brilliant job of guiding this offense, but if Todd Grantham can’t make significant repairs to this defense, Florida won’t be able to handle Alabama in the came we can see miles away. (In case you haven’t noticed, doing things to make the Alabama game more winnable one month from now is, and should be, a part of Florida’s larger overall approach.)
It is also worth noting that Vanderbilt slapped 35 points on the board against Kentucky. The youthful VU passing attack has gotten steadily better over the course of the season. Florida has to read it, study it, and contain it on Saturday, if UF is to feel good about its chances versus elite competition later in the season.
3 – Remain unselfish
Part of what has made the Florida offense so good is that receivers don’t care who gets the ball or the credit. Kyle Trask is a Heisman Trophy contender because he is spreading the ball around to everyone, and defenses can’t lock in and key on one or two receivers. Florida roasted Arkansas without Kyle Pitts. The ball goes where it needs to go, and UF’s receivers recognize that. As long as this unselfish environment remains in place, the offense should continue to flourish.
Saturday‘s game kicks off at 11:00 AM CT (12:00 PM ET). You can watch this Florida football game on the ESPN Network.