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Florida got a massive win over South Carolina to secure bowl eligibility. Now, the Gators’ eyes turn to secure an above .500 season in the first year under Billy Napier’s lead. Next up are the Vanderbilt Commodores. A team that in recent years has struggled in the conference, but an upset win over Kentucky last week could quickly get compounded into two-straight SEC wins. To help Inside the Gators get a better understanding of the Commodore team, Aria Gerson of The Tennessean gave the inside scoop.
Five Vanderbilt Commodores to Know
Mike Wright, Quarterback, Junior
- Wright had 184 yards in the air against the Kentucky Wildcats and another 126 on the ground. One passing touchdown and one rushing score got the Commodores the upset win. “He’s honestly not that dissimilar to Anthony Richardson,” Gerson said, “His best asset is his running.” She said his passing can sometimes be a bit inconsistent, but his mobility has also allowed him to keep plays alive.
Will Sheppard., Wide Receiver, Junior
- Sheppard is clearly the number one target for Vanderbilt. His 52 receptions, 708 yards and nine touchdowns lead the team in all categories. “He is by far the most frequent target,” Gerson said, “He’s a good downfield threat.” Sheppard put together 88 yards and the winning touchdown against Kentucky last week.
Ray Davis, Running Back, Senior
- Gerson described Davis as a “bruiser.” He has five touchdowns and over 850 yards this season, but his 181 carries are more than triple the next leading rusher, the quarterback Mike Wright. Gerson said he’s not as explosive as some of Florida’s running backs but is good for four to five yards when the Commodores need it.Anfernee Orji. Linebacker, Senior
- Orji is far and away the leading tackler for Vanderbilt. At 93 total tackles, he almost doubles the next best. He’s one forced fumble and has a single interception and a sack on the year. “He’s all over the place,” Gerson said, “And he’s definitely the player to watch out for.”
CJ Taylor, Linebacker, Sophomore
- Gerson said the linebacker core for Vanderbilt is very strong and that includes the versatility of CJ Taylor. “He plays kind of a hybrid linebacker/safety,” she said. His sack and four pass deflections could cause some problems for the Florida offense.
Five Fast Facts
- Florida wields a 43-10-2 series lead with wins in 30 of the last 31 meetings, highlighted by an eight-game win streak.
- The Gators have won 15-straight games against Vanderbilt in Nashville dating back through 1992 (30-year span).
- Florida has been among the best offensive teams in the nation in road games this season (at No. 11 Tennessee, at Texas A&M), ranking third in the FBS with 543.0 yards/game and ninth with 37.0 points/game in away contests.
- UF is coming off its top-two rushing totals of 2022, combining for 665 yards (291 at Texas A&M, 374 vs. South Carolina)
- In the last six quarters, UF has allowed just 343 yards (76 passing) while holding teams to 4-for-19 on third down (21.1%)
Five Gameday Storylines
Vanderbilt upset then No. 24 Kentucky to get their first SEC win since 2019. As Florida fans are aware of, the Gators dropped their matchup with the Wildcats earlier in the season. It begs the question of what confidence this Commodore squad has with the Gators up next. “I definitely think the team has a lot of confidence after that win,” Gerson said, “They know that they were able to win and SEC game, and they know they won an SEC game that wasn’t necessarily the one people thought they might.”
- One of the bigger stories this week has been about how Florida would not make the weather a story. It is going to be colder than the Gators have played in this year. That much is true. The fact is that both these teams are run-heavy, so it plays to their strengths anyway.
- A big win against Kentucky might bring some hope and confidence to the players as well as the fanbase. Is it possible that the Vanderbilt environment isn’t what many opposing teams are used to? Sure. But Gerson said there are factors working against each other. She said there is certainly a renewed sense of enthusiasm within the fanbase and hope that Florida is a team they can beat. With that said, Gerson noted that the cold and early game begs the question of what students show up and what Florida fans decide the game is worth being in the elements for. She did say that she expects more Vanderbilt fans than is typical for this time of year, but it is where the weather could have its greatest impact.
- It’s gone from Wright to freshman AJ Swann and is now back to Wright. Injuries have played a major role in the changes. But, after a win in the SEC, the job is likely Wright’s to lose. Gerson said Vanderbilt head coach Clark Lea told the media that Swann is still questionable. She said that indication likely means he isn’t 100% healthy, so to likely expect Wright under center.
Similar Styles on Offense
- Wright and Richardson are each listed as 6-foot-4. Both are big rushing quarterbacks that can present problems to opposing defenses. The Gators and Commodores are each a run-heavy scheme that many teams can’t prepare for. The Commodores have seen the mobile quarterback in practice, but so have the Gators. “I think these two teams have that similar style in that they want to run on offense,” Gerson said, “But I think they go about it different ways. I think Florida is more explosive whereas Vanderbilt is more efficient.” So, does slow and steady win the race, or does the home run ball get the Gators the win?
- Gerson: Florida 34-24
- Chris Will: Florida 38-21