Florida-Vanderbilt Breakdown & Prediction

by Inside the Gators Staff
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Inside the Gators Zack Weiss and Mark Wheeler take a closer look at Saturday’s match-up between Florida and Vanderbilt including thoughts on Billy Napier’s job security and play-calling, as well as offering up a score prediction.

How would a win/loss this weekend affect Napier’s job security, if at all?

Weiss: Honestly, I’m not sure a win would change much in the eyes of Gators fans. Right now, Napier’s on the warm seat. It feels like the Florida faithful are getting antsy, waiting for the team to string together a streak of quality wins, but still have at least some semblance of hope for Napier’s culture. I don’t think a win at home against a Vanderbilt team, which ranks last in the SEC East at 2-4 and 0-2 in conference play, will move that needle much.

A loss, on the other hand, could move the needle quite a bit — and not in a positive way. Dropping to .500 halfway through the season, being 1-2 in conference play, with the expectations coming into this year having been what they were, would be brutal for Napier’s second campaign as Florida’s head coach. I truly believe that a loss this weekend makes the possibility of his firing at season’s end a very real possibility.

Wheeler: Florida is roughly a three-touchdown favorite for a reason – they are a better team, especially at home, than Vanderbilt. A blowout win, where the Gators look like an offensive juggernaut, would absolutely help quiet down the noise in the system over the next week. However, if they struggle to a close win, and still look out of sorts offensively, the pressure on Billy Napier as an offensive coordinator will skyrocket, as it should.

An outright Florida loss, the second in a row to Vanderbilt, might be the beginning of the end.

Should the Gators’ conservative play calling be cause for concern?

Weiss: The way things have gone thus far, yes. It’s pretty tough to say otherwise. This Graham Mertz-led offense simply doesn’t throw the ball down the field. Whether it be primarily due to his arm strength or Napier’s play calling, it’s a slow-burn watching this team score points. And they currently rank fourth worst in the SEC in yards per game — 10th-of-14 in total yards. Sitting at 3-2, until either the offense starts scoring points or wins start piling up, the conservative play of this team should absolutely be a cause for concern.

Wheeler: In a word – yes. Let’s put fandom to the side and be honest with ourselves. Billy Napier has never been thought of as an offensive guru or a play-calling mastermind. He spent a total of three of his 13 years as a college assistant coach as an offensive coordinator/play-caller. He led Clemson’s offense for two years, before being fired after his second season, and then during his one season at Arizona State, he led the Sun Devils to a No. 7 offensive scoring finish in the 12-team Pac-12. In four years at Louisana, he had one top-20 offensive showing. Nothing about that resume screams that playcalling should be his calling card as a head coach. I said before the season, and then during the first half of this season that Napier has been great for Florida Sunday through Friday, but Saturdays look like the weak-link for him. That extends to clock management, game management, and certainly play calling.

Who are the key players to watch out for on both teams?

Weiss: Freshman wide receiver Eugene Wilson is listed as a starter on this week’s depth chart after having missed the team’s last two games with a collarbone injury. In three games played for Florida thus far, Wilson’s caught 12 balls for 104 yards — an average of 8.7 yards per catch. He’s also rushed the ball twice for 27 yards. He’s done more than enough to get Gators fans’ attention already, and, as made clear by his depth-chart status, Napier’s as well.

For the Commodores, senior wide receiver Will Sheppard’s been one of their few bright spots. After being placed on the 2023 Biletnikoff Award preseason watchlist, he’s lived up to the hype and then some. Halfway through the season, he’s accounted for 443 yards and seven touchdowns on 32 catches. Florida’s secondary will have its hands full with him alone, and he’ll be someone fans are going to want to watch closely from the moment of kickoff. Keep an eye on #14.

Wheeler: For the first time this season against a FBS team, Florida should be able to find success over the top. I would expect to see the receivers, especially Ricky Pearsall, Kahleil Jackson, Andy Jean, and perhaps Aidan Mizell, to show out.


Weiss: Florida isn’t a good offensive team right now, but Vanderbilt poses a weak secondary. I can see Mertz throwing two or three touchdowns on high efficiency and Montrell Johnson finding his way into the endzone at least once. Alternatively, Vanderbilt’s offensive line is average at its very best, so the Gators’ pass-rush should be able to take advantage. That said, the Orange & Blue’s secondary can get got; so, I can absolutely see the Commodores getting one in over the top. 27-13 Florida

Wheeler: I expect Florida’s offense, especially the Gators’ ground attack, to have a breakout type of day against a pitiful Vanderbilt defense. However, I also expect the Commodores to be able to throw the ball on Florida. Mostly because of last week’s disappointing loss to Kentucky, though it is Homecoming, I don’t believe the crowd will be a difference-maker. The odds-makers are calling for a blowout – I’m not so sure. 31-28 Florida

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