Gators covercome injuries to down Vandy
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) No one will overlook Jeff Driskel again, not after the Florida quarterback ran the ball better than even Tim Tebow.
Driskel ran for 177 yards and three touchdowns, and the fourth-ranked Gators beat Vanderbilt 31-17 on Saturday night to stay undefeated going into their big showdown with No. 3 South Carolina. Driskel ran only 11 times, and the sophomore set the Florida record for yards rushing by a quarterback, topping Tebow's 166 yards against Mississippi in 2007 on 27 carries.
Vanderbilt watched Gators running back Mike Gillislee so closely that Driskel didn't even think the Commodores laid a hand on him on any of his TD runs.
"We kept running really the same play, and they didn't really make adjustments," Driskel said. "So we kept going to it. If something's working, keep going to it."
The Gators (6-0, 5-0 SEC) finished off their last SEC road trip outside of the state of Florida with their 22nd straight win over Vanderbilt. Florida, which rallied in the second half to beat Texas A&M, Tennessee and LSU already this season, took control early this time. The Gators scored 21 straight points, including 11 in the second quarter where they took the lead for good.
Florida ran for 326 of its 403 yards even with three starting linemen out with injuries. Center Jonotthan Harrison, left guard James Wilson and left tackle Xavier Nixon didn't play, and the Gators had some receiver Latroy Pittman, linebacker Michael Taylor and tight end Jordan Reed injured during the game.
"We're a little bit of a M.A.S.H unit on the offensive line," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "So I was really proud of those guys, as many looks as Vanderbilt gave us, in being able to rush for 300 and something yards. ... It says a lot about our guys stepping up and manning up."
Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3) now has lost 47 straight against Top Five teams in front of its first sellout crowd since Florida's visit in 2008.
"We did not adjust well to the quarterback running game," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. "That's on me. It will get fixed."
The Gators also had three sacks, forced a turnover, blocked a field goal and used a fake punt to put away Vanderbilt. Caleb Sturgis kicked three field goals.
Florida did give up its first points in the fourth quarter this season as Zac Stacy scored on a 1-yard run with 8:57 left, pulling the Commodores within 21-14. Carey Spear's second field goal, a 22-yarder, with 2:35 left to pull Vanderbilt within 24-17 after Stacy had a Rodgers' pass go through his hands on third-and-goal.
Each time, the Gators answered in a big way. First, Andre Debose returned the kickoff 60 yards as he bounced off a couple Commodores to set up Sturgis' 26-yard field goal. The Commodores had a short kick after pulling within 24-17, and Driskel went 70 yards on the next play for the sealing TD.
"He did an awesome job," Florida receiver Solomon Patton said of Driskel. "With him being able to run like that, it opened up a lot, as far as the run game and passing game. Teams don't know if he is going to pass it or take off running."
Florida showed the effects of a bit of an emotional letdown after a big win over LSU last week that even had Muschamp crowd-surfing in his locker room after that game. The Gators didn't cross midfield until early in the second quarter and helped Vanderbilt out repeatedly with 10 penalties for 80 yards.
Vanderbilt used an interference penalty on a punt to take its only lead at 7-0 in the first quarter. Jordan Rodgers threw a 10-yard TD pass to Jordan Matthews in the back of the right corner.
Driskel capped a 91-yard drive when he faked a handoff to Mike Gillislee so well that the Florida quarterback ran back to his left and up the sideline untouched 37 yards for a touchdown. Trey Burton then took a direct snap and ran in for 2-point conversion and an 8-7 lead with 11:27 left in the second.
Florida led 11-7 at halftime even after failing to convert after getting first-and-goal at the Vanderbilt 2 before settling for a Sturgis field goal.
Vanderbilt had its chances, especially on the opening drive of the third quarter. Stacy took a direct snap in the wildcat and went up the middle 57 yards to the end zone. Matthews was flagged for holding as he grabbed the shoulder of a Gators defender, wiping out the TD.
They still drove to the Florida 7 before a false start, then Rodgers was sacked by Josh Evans. Earl Okine blocked Spear's 44-yard field goal attempt and Loucheiz Purifoy recovered, finally getting Florida the ball for the first time in the half with 6:17 left in the third.
The Commodores forced Florida to punt three plays later, but the Gators caught Vanderbilt with a fake punt. Patton ran up the left sideline 54 yards to the Commodores 3. A hold wiped out a touchdown, then the Commodores bit again on Driskel's fake handoff as he ran 13 yards untouched for his second TD late in the third.
"We just made too many mistakes," Franklin said. "I thought we played hard. We had a good plan. But we made too many mistakes."