The Gators head into their fourth game of the 2017 season coming off two of the more improbable wins in recent memory. Against the Vols two weeks ago Feleipe Franks found Tyrie Cleveland for a Hail Mary TD on the last play of the game. Even more unlikely was the Gators victory over Kentucky – Florida was down two touchdowns with under eight minutes to go in the ball game and somehow pulled out a last second win.
The Commodores are coming off an embarrassing loss to Alabama, after what had been a fine start to their season. They’re 3-1 with wins over two small schools and a really impressive win over Kansas State.
Both teams will feel they should win this game, but only one will emerge victorious. Florida has won 25 of the last 26 meetings between the two, but this one will be a true test for the Gators.
Let’s take a look at three storylines to watch in this one.
Luke Del Rio retakes the starting QB job. Redshirt Freshman Feleipe Franks was named the Gators starter heading into their first game of 2017, but he has done little to impress. Luke Del Rio, the Redshirt Junior who started for the Gators in 2016, will enter this pivotal contest as the Gators starter. He lacks elite or even above average arm strength at the college level, however he offers the Gators best chance at a clean offensive game. He was able to guide the Gators offense in their miraculous comeback against Kentucky and played decent football prior to sustaining injuries in 2016. He’ll be asked to get the ball out on time and find open receivers for safe completions. Will he be able to take advantage of a Vanderbilt defense that has played tough football in every game except for their loss to Bama?
The Gators appear to have found their offensive weapons of the future (and present). In the Gators fourth quarter surge against Kentucky several players stood out. Freshman running back Malik Davis provided a spark at the position not seen since Jordan Scarlett was suspended, while gadget player Kadarius Toney continued to shine when given the opportunity. Sophomore Tyrie Cleveland continued to impress as did Brandon Powell. The Gators OC Doug Nussmeier needs to find creative ways to get these playmakers the ball early and often if the Gators hope to continue their success against Vanderbilt.
Can the Gators slow down Ralph Webb? Vanderbilt’s all time leading rusher Ralph Webb has caused fits for defenses in his time at Vandy, including the Gators. Last year Webb eclipsed the 100 yard mark against the Gators for the second straight season. In his three previous contests against Florida Webb totaled 311 yards on the ground. If the Gators hope to slow down the Commodores on offense it starts with stopping Webb.
The Gators and Commodores are as evenly matched in this one as they ever have been. Vanderbilt has already beaten a top 25 team in 2016 and, despite an ugly performance against Alabama, appears to have good balance on both sides of the ball. The Gators have been winning ugly — what’s new? But they have found ways to win in the toughest of situations. The emergence of some offensive weapons combined with a playmaking defense will allow the Gators to compete with most teams, but their lack of consistency at QB holds back the entire team. The Gators will squeak out another narrow victory.
Florida 24, Vanderbilt 20