On paper, the No. 6 Gators might get a more competitive game by playing against their own scout team than against Vanderbilt (0-6) on Saturday. The Commodores have lost their six games by an average margin of 19.3 points.
Still, Florida (5-1) knows that Vanderbilt is still an SEC opponent, and the 11 a.m. local kickoff time and the extremely limited crowd will make it challenging to get off to a fast start. The Commodores do have some good players who can put a scare into the Gators if they let their guard down.
Here are three positions of strength, three positions of weakness and three players to watch for from the Commodores.
Three Positions of Strength
The Commodores are giving up 257.8 passing yards per game, which is seventh in the SEC. That might not seem very good, but this is the one area defensively where they don’t rank near the bottom of the league. They limited Texas A&M’s Kellen Mond to 189 yards, Mississippi State’s Will Rogers to 226 yards, and Kentucky’s two quarterbacks to 150 yards. So, they’ve at least shown that they’re capable in short stretches. Cornerback Jaylen Mahoney is tied for the team lead with two passes defensed. Safeties Brendan Harris, Dashaun Jenkins, and Maxwell Worship have combined for six passes defensed and two forced fumbles. They need to be more disruptive, as the unit has only intercepted one pass this season.
The Commodores’ offense revolves around their quartet of productive running backs. Keyon Henry-Brooks is their best offensive player. He’s gained 374 yards and two touchdowns on 85 carries (4.4 yards per carry) and is second on the team with 22 catches for 215 yards. Ja’Veon Marlow is a shiftier change-of-pace option. He’s carried 33 times for 148 yards (4.5 yards per carry). Jemauri Wakefield has contributed 38 carries for 123 yards, Rocko Griffin has added 27 carries for 57 yards and Mitchell Pryor has gained 48 yards on six carries. The Gators have given up touchdown runs of 75 and 83 yards the past two weeks, so the Commodores figure to lean on their ground game to shorten the game and try to break off a few explosive plays.
They start a true freshman in Ken Seals, but he’s actually played decently well over the past three games. For the season, he’s completed 66.8 percent of his passes for 1,291 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions. However, over his last three games, he’s thrown for an average of 293.3 yards per game with five touchdowns and four interceptions. If he can cut down on the interceptions, he has a chance to be a good quarterback. With the way UF’s secondary has played for most of this season, he’ll have a chance to make a couple of big throws down the field.
Three Positions of Weakness
They’re giving up 185.2 rushing yards per game and averaging just 1.33 sacks per game, which both rank 13th in the league. They’re undersized up front, with only two of the eight players listed on their depth chart weighing more than 295 pounds. If you take out Dayo Odeyingbo, the rest of their defensive line has combined for half a sack. That’s not going to get it done, especially against a quarterback like Kyle Trask that will shred your secondary if you give him time. This might be the biggest mismatch in a game full of mismatches.
Like the defensive line, the linebacker group is very top-heavy. Anfernee Orji and Dimitri Moore have combined for 67 tackles. The rest of the unit has combined for 40 stops. They’re last in the league in tackles-for-loss per game with 3.83. Their linebackers also aren’t very good in coverage, which means another big day should be expected from Florida’s tight ends and running backs, even without Kyle Pitts.
Despite having a group of talented running backs, the Commodores haven’t been very productive on the ground, averaging just 126.3 yards per game, which is 13th in the conference. They’re averaging just 3.3 yards per carry, which tops only Mississippi State’s Air Raid attack. They’re near the middle-of-the-pack in sacks given up with 11. They’re relying on some younger players up front. Freshman Bradley Ashmore starts at right tackle, and five other freshmen and sophomores are listed on the three-deep depth chart. The Gators should be able to shut down Vanderbilt’s running game and put pressure on Seals, which should negate some of the struggles in the secondary.
Three Players to Watch
Tight End Ben Bresnahan
The junior is third on the team with 21 receptions for 217 yards and a team-lead-tying three touchdowns. Those 21 receptions are the fifth most in the conference for a tight end. He’ll challenge the Gators’ linebackers and safeties, who have been inconsistent at best when it comes to covering the middle of the field.
Wide Receiver Cam Johnson
He was one of the rare four-star recruits to choose Vanderbilt when he signed in 2018. As expected, he’s developed into the Commodores’ best receiver by far, as he’s hauled in a career-best 37 passes for 355 yards and a pair of scores this season. He played the best two-game stretch of his career earlier this season against the two Mississippi schools, catching a combined 24 passes for 211 yards. If the Commodores are able to connect on some deep throws against UF’s secondary, there’s a high probability that Johnson will be on the receiving end.
Defensive End Dayo Odeyingbo
Odeyingbo was voted to the Preseason All-SEC Second Team by both the media and the coaches. The senior will likely be selected in the upcoming NFL Draft. He’s the only defensive player on Vanderbilt that should keep UF’s coaches up late this week. He’s tied for fifth in the league with 3.5 sacks, and he’s also broken up a pass. If Stone Forsythe continues to do an excellent job in pass-protection and keeps Odeyingbo out of the backfield, Florida might score 60 points again this week. If Odeyingbo is able to wreak havoc, they may only get to 40 points.