NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Florida Gators have an opportunity Saturday to prove they can shake off not just one, but two ugly hangovers.
The 23rd-ranked Gators visit Vanderbilt on Saturday, a week after blowing a 21-point lead in being routed 38-28 by the Tennessee Volunteers. If any Gators need a reminder to focus on a team they’ve beaten nine of the past 10 seasons, coach Jim McElwain can point to Vanderbilt nearly ruining homecoming last year before Florida pulled out a 9-7 win clinching the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title.
Safety Marcus Maye says the Gators have learned their humbling lesson and know they can’t let that happen again.
“We know it takes four quarters, we can’t get down on ourselves if we’re down,” Maye said. “We can’t relax if we’re up. It’s definitely a learning process.”
The Gators (3-1, 1-1) aren’t giving up on defending their SEC East title this early in the season. Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason, who’s known McElwain a long time, isn’t expecting a team based on what’s happened in the last two quarters played.
“Sometimes you find yourself in a landslide and you can’t escape it, and when that happens it can be rough,” Mason said. “Coach McElwain’s got to get that group to rebound, and he will. He’s been doing this a long time.”
Mason’s Commodores (2-2, 0-1) want to build on a 31-30 overtime win at Western Kentucky last week. And yes, they remember coming up short in the Swamp last November.
“To come so close and not come up with the win, it’s unacceptable,” Vanderbilt linebacker-safety Oren Burks said. “There’s something personal about this game.”
Here are some things to watch Saturday when the Gators visit Music City:
WAKE UP: Kickoff is at 11 a.m. local time, but McElwain is keeping his Gators on Eastern time to help them be ready for their earliest kickoff this season. McElwain has reason to worry about his Gators kicking off at noon after struggling in three such games last season.
“I don’t know what it is with noon starts a year ago, we were FAU, Vanderbilt and the bowl game, which none of those results were very good,” McElwain said. “So I think let’s talk about the obvious, I’ve got no problem with that. We’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go play against a team that obviously has some weapons.”
STOPPING WEBB: Ralph Webb has been Vanderbilt’s biggest offensive threat since getting on the field, and now the junior ranks second in the SEC averaging 118 yards per game. Webb leads the SEC with five TDs rushing, and now sophomore quarterback Kyle Shurmur is coming off his best game throwing the ball with a career-high 279 yards in rallying Vandy to a win last week.
DON’T LOOK AHEAD: The Gators can’t dwell on last week’s game, and they can’t afford to look ahead either. LSU visits Gainesville on Oct. 8, giving Florida a chance to avenge last year’s 35-28 loss. “Just go out and focus on what we have to focus on,” Maye said.
STINGY D: As bad as the Gators looked giving up five TDs in six possessions last week, they’ve been so good defensively that they hardly budged in the early rankings. Florida still leads the SEC averaging 4.25 sacks per game, which is fourth nationally. The Gators are the only team with five different players with at least two sacks, and they rank second in the SEC giving up just 76.5 yards rushing.
BALL SECURITY: The Gators have intercepted six passes in the past three games, and Vanderbilt has forced at least one turnover in each game this season. But the Commodores have protected the ball very well so far and lead the SEC in turnover differential at plus-5.
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