Three Matchups to Watch: Vanderbilt vs. Florida

After a thrilling 30-28 victory over the UConn Huskies, Vanderbilt will look to keep it rolling against No. 20 Florida.


Mattigan Kelly

Vanderbilt wide receiver Will Sheppard celebrates a touchdown on Oct. 2 against UConn. (Hustler Multimedia/Mattigan Kelly)

Aiden Rutman, Staff Writer

The Vanderbilt Commodores battled the Connecticut Huskies this past weekend in a game many fans around the country deemed the “toilet bowl,” and the action certainly did not disappoint. The game featured 954 yards of total offense, four turnovers and 17 penalties—exactly what you’d expect from two teams that have equally struggled so far this season. The rain certainly didn’t help. Just when it seemed like the Commodores had blown their lead and were out of it, Ken Seals engineered an impressive drive down the field to set up a 31-yard field goal by Joseph Bulovas for the win. 

Florida, on the other hand, is still recovering from their upset loss at the hands of No. 16 Kentucky. Fortunately for them, a home matchup against the 2-3 Vanderbilt Commodores is the perfect opportunity to regain their swagger back. Regardless, the game still presents a number of intriguing matchups for Commodore fans to watch as Vanderbilt kicks off its road SEC slate. 

Vanderbilt Rushing Defense vs. Florida Rushing Attack 

When it comes to running the ball, Florida has the most lethal backfield in the SEC. Their 292 rushing yards per game are third in the nation and first in the conference. The most dangerous part of their ground game is that they don’t have one go-to guy. Quarterback Emory Jones and running back Malik Davis may be their leaders in the backfield, but the Gators have three more players who provide key contributions on the ground. 

The Vanderbilt rushing defense is not so spectacular, to say the least. It ranks 115th in the nation—out of a possible 130—and 13th in the SEC in rushing yards allowed per game. If the Commodores are going to have a chance in this game, their rushing defense must prove capable of slowing down the five-headed beast that is Florida’s backfield. 

Both Quarterbacks vs. Bad Decision Making

Ken Seals has thrown five interceptions this year, and Emory Jones has thrown six. In their Week 5 matchups, both quarterbacks threw inexplicably poor passes. For Seals, it was a 5-yard floater off the back of his foot that went directly into a UConn defender’s hands, setting the Huskies up in Vanderbilt territory to begin the possession. Jones’ pass wasn’t as irresponsible, but it was a head-scratcher nonetheless. He forced a throw to a receiver who was surrounded by four Kentucky defenders, and the closest one jumped the pass and picked the ball off. 

Both defenses rank in the bottom half of the FBS in interceptions forced—Vanderbilt has four and Florida has two—so it’ll be interesting to see if either quarterback remains clean this week. 

WR Will Sheppard vs. CB Kaiir Elam 

Sheppard enters the week hot off a stellar performance against UConn, posting career highs in receiving yards (119) and touchdowns (2). This week, he’ll have a significantly tougher matchup against Kaiir Elam, Florida’s star defender and projected first-round NFL Draft pick. 

Sheppard (6’3”, 200 lbs.) and Elam (6’2”, 196 lbs.) have virtually identical builds. In three games this year, Elam has amassed eight tackles, three passes defended and one interception. Ken Seals is not the type of player to shy away from a challenge, so Sheppard, who’s averaging 4.5 catches a game, should still get plenty of targets and it will be up to Elam to keep him at bay. This isn’t to say that Sheppard will have an easy time this week, as Elam has allowed only four catches through three games this season. Regardless of statistics, the pure talent that both players possess makes this a true marquee matchup. 

The Commodores and Gators will square off in Gainesville at 11 a.m. CDT this Saturday.