The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
Since 1888
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.
The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University

The Vanderbilt Hustler

The official student newspaper of Vanderbilt University.

Vanderbilt stuns Florida 31-24, wins second straight SEC game

With the win, Vanderbilt has a chance to become bowl eligible for the first time since 2018 next week.
Miguel Beristain
Vanderbilt defense against Florida on Nov. 19, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

Vanderbilt (5-6) defeated Florida (6-5), 31-24, for their second straight SEC victory and first win over the Gators since 2013 on Saturday, Nov. 19. It’s just the Commodores’ third win over Florida since 1988. Vanderbilt was led offensively by Ray Davis, who rushed for 122 yards on 30 carries in the victory.

“Obviously, just so excited for our team and our program, our university, our community,” Clark Lea said afterwards. “To win consecutive games in conference, to do it at home, meant a lot to us. It was fun to share that with the Vanderbilt fans that were here and obviously with chancellor (Daniel) Diermeier and (athletic director) Candice Lee and all the people in our administration that support us too that are making these strides possible. I can’t say enough about this being a new era in Vanderbilt football, this being a point that we’ll look back on and see where the shift happened.”

Vanderbilt received the opening kick as the two teams got underway on a sunny but cold Nashville morning. Led by Mike Wright (10-16, 108 yards, 3 TDs), making his second straight start in place of the injured AJ Swann, the Commodore offense sputtered early going three-and-out on their opening drive. Florida responded with a lengthy 10-play, 63-yard drive to get on the scoreboard first.

Mike Wright threw three touchdowns against Florida on November, 19 2022 (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain).
Mike Wright threw three touchdowns against Florida on Nov. 19, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

The Gator drive was not without some help, though. After snapping it over quarterback Anthony Richardson’s head, Florida faced a 3rd-and-25 from their own 13-yard line. Richardson fired a strike to Ricky Pearsall, and he scurried around Vanderbilt cornerback BJ Anderson for a first down. Anderson was ejected for targeting on the next play, giving Florida another 15 yards to move the Gators across midfield. Three plays later, Richardson found Daejon Reynolds on 4th-and-7 to keep the Gator drive alive, but Florida would settle for a field goal to go up 3-0.

Vanderbilt responded with a 9-play, 51-yard drive that was halted by a Will Sheppard fumble on a would-be fourth down conversion.

The Commodores found pay dirt on their next offensive possession to take a 7-3 lead after a 12-play, 81-yard drive. Davis kickstarted the drive with a 26-yard run, but Vanderbilt stalled at midfield. On 3rd and 8, Wright was swallowed up for a sack but a boneheaded facemask penalty on Florida extended the Commodore drive. Eight plays later, Wright found Jayden McGowan wide open for a 10-yard score.

Florida’s ensuing drive made its way into Vanderbilt territory, but the Gators went conservative after being forced into a 3rd-and-8, electing to run the ball and settle for a field goal to make the score 7-6.

It was at that point that this game turned on its head. After a Vanderbilt three-and-out, punter Matt Hayball booted it away. While backpedaling and signaling for a fair catch, Florida returner Jason Marshall Jr. muffed the punt, and the ball trickled into the end zone. Vanderbilt long-snapper Wesley Schelling fell on the pigskin in the end zone to give Vanderbilt a sudden 14-6 lead.

Vanderbilt forced a Florida three-and-out on the next drive, heading to halftime up eight.

Clark Lea’s bunch came out of the locker room with a spirit and determination to finish off the Gators, controlling the third quarter to the tune of a 14-6 score advantage.

Florida opened up the second half with a 12-play drive including a 3rd and 4th down conversion to cut the deficit to two points. Richardson made a number of fantastic plays including a dime on fourth down to Justin Shorter. Despite the score, the Vanderbilt defense, led by CJ Taylor, was noticeably feisty out of the break and managed to hold the Gators to just six, retaining a 14-12 lead. Taylor finished with 10 tackles, a pass breakup and 0.5 tackles for loss.

“He’s a total representation of Vanderbilt football,” Lea said of Taylor. “This guy is a guy that has the skills and instincts that needed the time to develop, that loves football. The one thing that I’ve never questioned is CJ Taylor’s love for the game. I wasn’t sure about his love for the process when he first got here. He had to learn that. He had to learn about what it takes in training and taking care of your body and habits. As those things have gotten in line with his passion for play — again, we knew from the very first practice we had last fall camp that that guy was going to chase the ball, that he was going to play physically.”

Vanderbilt’s next offensive drive was perhaps their best of the season, as Wright led the Commodores on a 12-play, 66-yard drive spanning 6 minutes and 49 seconds. Again, Florida helped out Vanderbilt with a killer defensive holding penalty on a 3rd-and-14 in which Wright threw the ball out of bounds. Two plays later, the Commodores picked up a crucial 3rd-and-8, completing a 12-yard in route to Quincy Skinner Jr.

After a 15-yard Ray Davis rush took Vanderbilt inside the 10-yard line, Wright found Gavin Schonewald for an easy 7-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 21-12.

The Commodore defense continued to bear down on the next possession, forcing Florida into a 3rd-and-10. That’s when Richardson made his worst throw of the day, trying to make something out of nothing as he was being brought down on a sack. His pass deflected off the hands of Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman and into the hands of Jaylen Mahoney, who made a fantastic diving grab.

With momentum squarely on their side, Vanderbilt scored one play later on a thundering catch and run from tight end Ben Bresnahan. The 28-yard connection pushed the Commodore lead out to 28-12 with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.

Both offenses stalled until Florida’s first drive of the fourth quarter. That’s when Anthony Richardson found Daejon Reynolds for a 74-yard strike over the top of the Vanderbilt defense to cut the deficit to 10. The Gators’ two-point attempt was again unsuccessful as CJ Taylor broke up Richardson’s throw to the goal line.

Vanderbilt continued to assert their will up front on the next drive, as Davis and the Commodore ground game ran all over Florida. Davis rushed for 122 yards on the day, his third straight game with over 100 yards.

The Commodores’ eight-play, 54-yard drive didn’t feature a single pass play until Vanderbilt was inside the red zone. Wright threw a first down fade route to Sheppard, which was intercepted by Jason Marshall Jr, ending the Commodore drive without endpoints.

The Vanderbilt defense held strong though, forcing a turnover on downs after Richardson overthrew his intended target on 4th and 3.

After the interception on the subsequent drive, Vanderbilt elected to run the ball three straight times after taking over in the red zone. Three attempts gained just two yards and the Commodores settled for three to take a 31-21 lead.

Richardson and the Gator offense quickly dissected the Vanderbilt defense on the next drive needing just three plays to get into the red zone. The Commodore defense held their ground inside the 20, forcing another fourth down attempt from Florida. Richardson found Reynolds again for a 16-yard score. As was typical on Saturday, Florida shot themselves in the foot, missing the point-after attempt and keeping the Vanderbilt lead at 7, 31-24.

Vanderbilt recovered the onside kick attempt from Florida and ran three times but lost two yards in the process. Matt Hayball had a fantastic punt for the Commodores to down the Gators inside their own 10-yard line. The Vanderbilt defense held the Gators off the scoreboard in a tense final minute to hang onto the victory.

The Commodores will play their final game of the season against rival Tennessee on Saturday, Nov. 26 at 6:30 CST with a chance to become bowl-eligible for the first time since 2018 with a win.

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About the Contributors
Bryce Smith
Bryce Smith, Former Sports Editor
Bryce Smith ('23) is majoring in human and organizational development in Peabody College with a minor in business. Bryce previously wrote for SBNation before joining The Hustler. Hailing from Chicago, Bryce is a die-hard Bears and Cubs fan who is also hoping that the Bulls and Blackhawks may one day rekindle their dominance. He can be reached at [email protected].    
Miguel Beristain
Miguel Beristain, Senior Staff Photographer
Miguel Beristain (’24) is a philosophy and cellular and molecular biology double major in the College of Arts and Science from Murfreesboro, Tennessee. When not shooting for The Hustler, he can usually be found playing Magic the Gathering, exploring new restaurants or practicing guitar. He can be reached at .
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