Saturday should be a breeze for the No. 10 Gators and not just because the temperature is expected to be in the 60s at kickoff. Vanderbilt (2-6, 1-4 SEC) is arguably the second-worst team in the SEC, and they rank near the bottom of nearly every meaningful statistical category.
Still, the Commodores always seem to play UF (7-2, 4-2) tough, and they led the Gators 21-3 in the second quarter of last year’s meeting. The Gators are looking to get back on track following the loss to Georgia, and a blowout defeat of Vanderbilt would accomplish just that.
Here are three positions of strength, three positions of weakness and three players to watch for from the Commodores.
Three Positions of Strength
Ke’Shawn Vaughn is considered one of the SEC’s top running backs, as he rushed for 1,244 yards in 2018, second in the conference and in VU history. He’s on pace to put up similar numbers this year. He carried 151 times for 790 yards (fourth in the conference) and six touchdowns. He’s a smaller, shiftier type of back who can make plays in the open field as both a rusher and a receiver. He could be a second- or third-round draft pick in the upcoming NFL Draft. Freshman Keyon Brooks provides depth with 22 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown.
Kalija Lipscomb was named Preseason Second Team All-SEC at SEC Media Days after leading the league with 87 receptions for 916 yards and nine scores in 2018. His statistics aren’t anywhere near as impressive this season, but that likely has a lot to do with a new quarterback and not having as much talent around him to take defenses’ attention away from him. He still leads them with 32 catches for 377 yards and two touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Cam Johnson has added 20 receptions for 231 yards and three scores, while junior Chris Pierce has contributed 11 catches for 192 yards and a touchdown. If UF’s secondary doesn’t bounce back from a rough game against Georgia, Vanderbilt has enough talent at wideout to create some big plays.
Statistically, this is the one area where the Commodores excel, at least comparatively. Ryley Guay has made seven of his eight field attempts, with five of the makes coming from 40 yards out or longer. Punter Harrison Smith ranks sixth in the conference with a 44.4-yard average, and the Commodores’ net average of 43.5 ranks eighth in the league. Punt returner Justice Shelton-Mosley is averaging a healthy 10.8 yards per return, which has allowed Vanderbilt to rank 31st in the country in punt returning.
Three Positions of Weakness
Despite having a premier running back in Vaughn, the Commodores are the only team in the SEC with a worse rushing average than Florida at 125.9 yards per game. Quarterback Riley Neal has been sacked 14 times, fifth most in the league. The result is an offense that ranks last in the SEC in scoring, total offense, rushing and passing efficiency and 11th in passing.
Vanderbilt isn’t any better on the other line of scrimmage. They’re surrendering 202.5 rushing yards per game, 13th in the conference. They’ve recorded just 11 sacks, which is worst in the league, and only two of them have come from defensive linemen. They’re 11th in the conference in tackles-for-loss with 43.
The Commodores are 13th in the league in passing defense (251.1 yards-per-game) and last in passing efficiency defense (157.69). Tae Daley, Allan George and Randall Haynie are responsible for VU’s three interceptions, which is last in the conference. They’re allowing opponents to convert in the red zone at an 81.3 percent clip, 12th in the conference. No pass rush combined with poor coverage doesn’t typically produce good results. Kyle Trask could turn in his second 300-yard game of the season.
Three Players to Watch
Running Back Ke’Shawn Vaughn
He rushed seven times for 56 yards and scored a 75-yard touchdown on a screen pass in last year’s game before exiting in the second quarter with an injury. His departure coincided with UF’s defensive resurgence and eventual come-from-behind victory. What kind of damage could he do to Florida’s defense if he’s healthy for a full game? The Gators did a great job of limiting Georgia’s D’Andre Swift last week. Can they do it two weeks in a row against a similar type of running back?
Wide Receiver Kalija Lipscomb
He’s their only wide receiver with more than 20 catches and 250 yards. While he hasn’t produced at the level he did last season, Florida’s secondary hasn’t exactly been locking down receivers as of late. He caught four passes for 64 yards in the 2018 matchup, and he figures to be targeted a bunch on Saturday.
Linebacker Dimitri Moore
He is 12th in the SEC with 62 tackles and is third on his team with 4.5 tackles-for-loss. With the way UF’s offensive line has struggled to run block and the large lead UF will likely have in the second half, Moore should get a chance to pad those stats. He’s the one beacon of hope on an otherwise lifeless defense.