Following UF’s exciting and explosive victory over Arkansas in the Swamp on Saturday night, the No. 6 Gators will look to keep the good times rolling in the Music City on Saturday when they take on Vanderbilt (0-6) at noon.
The Commodores have actually fared better on the road than at home this season. They’ve lost their three home games by an average margin of 33.7 points, while they’ve lost their three road games by an average of just five points. Florida (5-1) hopes to continue that trend and pull itself one step closer to the SEC East title. The Gators have won six straight in the series.
Here are three observations, two questions, and one prediction as UF prepares for the Commodores.
1) The Gators are incredibly deep at the skill positions on offense. Some wondered if the offense might take a step back against Arkansas with Kyle Pitts out with a concussion. The answer was a resounding no. Kyle Trask and Emory Jones completed passes to 10 different receivers, and five of them combined to score the seven touchdowns. Trevon Grimes played perhaps the best game of his career, hauling in a career-high six passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Xzavier Henderson (three receptions, 62 yards) caught more passes against the Razorbacks than he had all season and scored his first touchdown. Backup tight end Keon Zipperer caught his first two touchdowns of the season. Obviously, the Gators are better with Pitts on the field, but they have the depth and the quarterback to put up huge numbers against any defense without him.
2) The offensive line looks significantly improved from last year’s debacle. We thought we knew this early in the season, but the last two weeks have confirmed this theory. They gave up just one sack and paved the way for a rushing touchdown against Georgia’s defensive front that is among the best in the country. Against Arkansas, they helped generate 208 rushing yards, 4.6 yards per rush, and yielded just one sack. They appear to be very in sync and focused right now. When was the last time you can remember an offensive lineman getting penalized for holding? In particular, Stone Forsythe has developed into one of the most effective pass-protectors in the country. UF’s newfound strength up front has allowed them to be more balanced when they want to be and allowed Dan Mullen to dial up the deep shots that Kyle Trask has hit at an extremely high level.
3) The explosive plays given up on defense are a reason for concern. The Razorbacks scored on passes of 47 and 82 yards and an 83-yard rush. If you take out those three plays, the Gators held Arkansas to 246 yards and 5.1 yards per play. Instead, they gave up more than 450 yards and nine yards per play. A similar thing happened against Georgia. If you take out the 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of that game, UF’s defense held Georgia to 202 yards and 3.5 yards per play. The Gators have done a much better job of getting off the field on third downs and preventing opponents from going on long scoring drives over the last three games, but they still need to do a much better job of preventing explosive plays. Arkansas and Georgia both left a couple of explosive plays out there, too. Florida won’t be as fortunate when it faces Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.
1) Can the Gators put up 60 points again next week? It’s not out of the realm of possibility. Vanderbilt ranks 11th in the SEC in total defense, 13th in rushing defense, and 13th in scoring defense. They’ve given up 38 or more points four times this season, including 54 to Ole Miss. Those 11 a.m. local kickoffs in Nashville have been a thorn in the Gators’ side throughout the years, so avoiding a sleepy start will be key. If they start fast and get another score on defense or special teams, 60 points will be within reach.
2) Why did the Gators scale back on playing younger players on defense against Arkansas? Cornerback Jaydon Hill and safeties Tre’Vez Johnson and Rashad Torrence played a bunch in key situations over the past two or three games. They played extremely well, and you can make an argument that Hill and Torrence have been the most consistent performers at their respective positions this season. Hill didn’t receive extensive playing time against Arkansas until the game was well in hand and failed to record a stat. Johnson made just one tackle. Torrence finished second on the team with six stops, but most of them came when the backups were in the game in the fourth quarter. Through necessity, the Gators rushed some of their young defenders into action the past two games and enjoyed tremendous success, but then they abandoned the youngsters in favor of the veterans that have struggled this season. It’s a head-scratcher.
The Gators will run a different trick play from the flea-flicker look at some point this season. Mullen doesn’t just call a play on a whim. He plays chess; every play he calls has a strategic purpose. He put the flea-flicker on film twice for opposing coaches to dissect and prepare their players for. Maybe later in the season, potentially against Alabama, he’ll have Trask flip the ball to Kadarius Toney on an end-around after receiving the toss from the running back. One of the most impressive things about Mullen as a play-caller is that he doesn’t just set up plays within a game; he sets up plays that he might call five games down the road. He’ll have a wrinkle off of the flea-flicker.