Five Key Takeaways From Florida's 38-17 Performance Against Vanderbilt

 si.com  11/22/2020 00:04:39 

Zach Goodall

Let's be frank: Florida's performance against a Vanderbilt team now standing at 0-7 is up there with the loss to Texas A&M as one of its most sluggish on the year. A slow start on both sides of the ball made this game way closer than anyone could have predicted, cutting the pre-game betting line of 31.5 points nearly in half as UF only won by 17.

The Gators, led by quarterback Kyle Trask, began rolling in the late en route to 356 total second-half yards to eliminate any chance of Vanderbilt pulling off an upset. And as Florida got comfortable even within the first half offensively, it didn't feel like a game that could have ever fallen out of Florida's hands.

Still, these types of showings are concerning when you are fighting for national relevance and a playoff spot. There are positives to pull as we take a look back on the performance, however, the negatives feel heavier than ever.

Gators offense sets history... stop me if you've heard that before

Despite a slow start scoring for the third year in a row against the Commodores under head coach Dan Mullen, Florida found a way to put this game away offensively and still a school record in the process.

Saturday marked Florida's ninth-straight game of 35+ points, topping the previous record of eight set in 1996 and matched in 2008. Florida's 313 points through seven games this season are also the third-most in team history, topping the 306 scored by the 1995 Florida team.

In the end, the Commodores got tired and started to give up yards. UF averaged 8.5 yards per play in the second half compared to 6.8 in the first - including a lousy 2.5 yards per rushing attempt jumping to 5.4 which allowed UF to control the clock and open up the pass a bit more.

Kyle Trask picks apart pass looks against a solid Vandy passing defense

We all knew entering the game that Vanderbilt is a bottom-feeder in the SEC (making UF's struggles defensively all the more an issue, but more on that later). However, the Commodores have done one thing well throughout the year and that's defend the pass, ranking No. 7 in the conference in that department giving up 257.8 yards through the air per game entering Saturday.

Mullen acknowledged post-game that Vanderbilt put an emphasis on defending the pass against UF, usually sending three rushers and dropping eight into coverage. As a result, quarterback Kyle Trask didn't look as sharp as ever - yet, he still finished with a 26-of-35, 383-yard, three-touchdown stat-line. He completed passes to nine different receivers yet again, a common occurrence within Florida's spread-out offense.

We counted four drops on the day too, from wide receivers Jacob Copeland, Trevon Grimes, and Xzavier Henderson, as well as tight end Keon Zipperer

Mullen said that Trask missed some throws that could have been touchdowns, as well. However, he went to bat for his QB considering what the Gators' offense was looking at on a snap-to-snap basis.

"I thought if Kyle went 26 of 35 for 383 and three touchdowns with no interceptions against a team that was 100% stop the pass first today and that’s pretty darn good performance against that type of look,” said Mullen.

As for stats to add to Trask's Heisman campaign, look no further than this:

Florida's offensive line has a legitimate weak link

Throughout the season, right tackle Jean Delance has been Florida's most disappointing starting offensive lineman but it has yet to hurt the team. His worst performance came against Vanderbilt, though, giving up numerous pressures, including one that led to a near-interception thrown by Trask (Stone Forsythe allowed a front-side pressure as well here), and an early third-down sack.

Meanwhile, the Gators swapped freshman Joshua Braun and Ethan White in and out at right guard throughout the game and each seemed to hold it down in pass protection, only further highlighting the struggles on the right side of the line coming from an individual.

Pro Football Focus had Delance down for allowing 24 pressures in six games entering Saturday. The next-highest allowed came from usual starting right guard Stewart Reese, with ten in as many games.

Redshirt sophomore Michael Tarquin has seen action at both tackle spots this season. Reese has started at right tackle in the past for Mississippi State and Braun also has experience at the position from high school. When Reese is back in the lineup, there aren't any excuses to have Delance on the field - especially when defenses are focusing on stopping the pass.

One of the worst defensive performances yet

Vanderbilt's true freshman quarterback Ken Seals went 11-of-12 passing to begin this game, as Vanderbilt ran a scripted, up-tempo offensive attack into the second quarter and held/tied the lead beyond what Florida has been used to this season.

Seals didn't finish the game playing at the same level, but he was able to take advantage of most mishaps UF had defensively to make this game closer than it ever should have been. UF gave up nine passes of 15+ yards to Seals, which went for a total of 216 yards gained.

Florida did a good job of stopping the run - albeit while Vanderbilt's starting running back Keyon Henry-Brooks was sidelined with an injury - holding the Commodores to 2.6 yards per attempt on the day. However, it was Vanderbilt's quick passing game that gave UF fits.

Particularly, slant routes were simply uncoverable by Florida's defense. Both touchdowns came against such a route against either off-man coverage or while UF was still getting into position, as well as a fourth-down conversion of three yards later in the game that, luckily for the Gators, Vanderbilt wasn't able to take advantage of to make it a one-score game.

"I think we have to clean it up, especially where we want to go, you know, SEC Championship, National Championship," cornerback Kaiir Elam said post-game. "Most of the yards came from those slants and those bang 8’s [skinny posts].” 

UF had communication issues and found difficulty getting into spots throughout the first half, leading to the first touchdown, three clear jumps into the neutral zone, and two offside penalties called.

Concerns are once again raised about the future

Florida won't talk about Alabama or the SEC Championship until they're officially on the schedule. That won't stop everyone else from looking ahead.

After last week's 63-point showing against Arkansas without star tight end Kyle Pitts, Florida seemed like a team that could match scores and hang with Alabama in Atlanta next month. Perhaps that's true, but when you think about the issues we saw against Vanderbilt today, it's easy to feel uncomfortable about Florida's odds against college football's juggernaut.

Entering this weekend, Alabama is the only team in the conference throwing for more yards per game than UF. Alabama also stands ahead of UF in every defensive yards per game allowed category, and while the Crimson Tide's defense has not lived up to par this year - its leading sack artists have two apiece - we simply haven't seen Delance against athletes such as Alabama's edge defenders this season enough to trust him in protection. Four Alabama pass-rushers have double digits pressures through six games, per PFF.

Florida's two biggest issues on display against Vanderbilt do not forecast well against Alabama, should Florida lock up the SEC East over the next few weeks and indeed advance to the league title game. 

Seven games into the year is not too late to experiment and make changes, especially when the remaining schedule combines for an 8-11 record as of this writing. Improvement will be necessary in order to stand a chance on Dec. 19, if Florida plays that day.

« Go back