Three matchups to watch: Florida


Ziyi Liu

(41) Zach Cunningham during Vanderbilt’s 34-10 loss against Florida at Vanderbilt Stadium November 8, 2014.

Jack Fader

After an exhilarating 31-30 overtime win at Western Kentucky last weekend, Vanderbilt returns home to face SEC foe Florida this Saturday. Here are three key matchups that could determine whether Vanderbilt can earn its third win of the year or if the Gators will escape Nashville with a road victory.

Kyle Shurmur vs. Florida secondary

Kyle Shurmur turned in his best performance of the season for Vanderbilt in Saturday’s win over Western Kentucky, completing 18 of 29 passes for 279 yards, along with one touchdown and one interception. He showed confidence in the pocket and helped pick up Vanderbilt’s run game on the Commodores’ five scoring drives. He needs to provide the same kind of effort on Saturday for the Dores to have any chance to beat Florida.

Florida’s secondary, which features two preseason All-SEC picks in Teez Tabor and Marcus Maye, was exposed last weekend at Tennessee, as UT quarterback Joshua Dobbs threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns in his team’s victory. If Shurmur can turn in something close to the performance Dobbs had, Vanderbilt will have a great chance to win. Florida’s vaunted secondary comes to Nashville with something to prove, and how it responds to adversity could define Saturday’s game.

Vanderbilt vs. Florida’s intensity

Florida suffered its first loss of the season last weekend, and it could not have come under worse circumstances for them. The Gators started strong on the road at Tennessee, jumping out to a 21-0 lead in the first half and taking the crowd out of the game at Neyland Stadium early.

Then, the unthinkable happened for Florida, which had won 11 straight games in the series: Tennessee scored 38 unanswered points on the nation’s previously top-ranked defense and moved to 4-0 on the season, all while snapping Florida’s win streak. Florida was embarrassed by the loss and should come to Nashville looking to bounce back with a strong performance. It is clear that Florida coach Jim McElwain will have his players ready to go on Saturday, and it is important that Vanderbilt matches the intensity that Florida will come out with. Florida will try to make a statement early to show people they are better than what they showed last weekend, and Vanderbilt must be able to take a punch and punch right back if they want a chance to win.

Florida run game vs. Vanderbilt run defense

Vanderbilt has had trouble stopping the run in its past two games, giving up 204 yards to Western Kentucky and 289 to Georgia Tech. Florida is ranked ninth in the SEC in rushing, averaging exactly 178 yards per game. The Gators, who utilize a “running back by committee” scheme, are liable to use at least three running backs over the course of the game Saturday. Jordan Scarlett, who had the most carries against Tennessee, only managed 44 yards on 10 carries. The Florida rushing attack picked up only 106 yards against Tennessee, averaging 3.4 yards per carry. Which side is able to hold the advantage Saturday will make a big difference in how the game is played.

If Florida’s rushing attack is effective, it will give quarterback Austin Appleby more space in the passing game and will allow him to go after Vanderbilt’s secondary with targets like Antonio Callaway. If Vanderbilt is able to shore up its issues and win the battle, it will put a lot of pressure on Appleby to beat them, which plays into the Commodores’ hands. The side that wins the battle in the trenches will have a major advantage as the game goes on.