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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.

Behind Enemy Bylines: Florida Gators

Ahead of Vanderbilt’s upcoming matchup against Florida, The Hustler spoke with Jackson Reyes, Sports Editor of The Independent Florida Alligator, to learn about the Commodores’ opponents.
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Miguel Beristain
Vanderbilt lining up against Florida on Nov. 19, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)

In the midst of a four-game losing streak, the Vanderbilt Commodores will travel to Gainesville, Fla. for a Saturday afternoon game against the Florida Gators. Vanderbilt heads into the game with a struggling defense and an unstable situation at quarterback.

Meanwhile, Florida heads into the game at 3-2. The Gators were looking up after three straight wins and a dominant 29-16 win over Tennessee, but lost last week 33-14 to Kentucky. To learn more about head coach Billy Napier’s team, The Hustler went behind enemy bylines to speak with Jackson Reyes, Sports Editor of The Independent Florida Alligator. 

The Vanderbilt Hustler: Florida has had what seemed like a strong start to the season and then that tough loss last weekend against Kentucky. Overall, what is your evaluation of the state of Florida football right now?

Jackson Reyes: I’d say my overall evaluation is that the team kind of came back down to Earth after last week, you know, they were riding that three-game win streak after that huge win against Tennessee as well at home. I think the thing about this iteration of Florida under Billy Napier is it’s just a tale of two teams: When they’re at home, they’re competitive and they can beat almost anybody. They already upset a top team last year in Utah; upset a top team this year in Tennessee. But the moment they go on the road, they turned to an entirely different program. You know it’s one thing to have these close losses or where you’re coming up just short. But time and time again, the team has just looked lacking away from the swamp and I think that was shown against Kentucky. They gave up over 300 rushing yards. Ray Davis, as you know, a former Vanderbilt guy, he ran all over Florida en route to a blowout win. So I’d say the state of the program is just kind of back to where the expectations were before the season. You know, a lot of people were expecting this here to go about 6-6, 7-5 still make a bowl game. And I think after that lost, they’re still on track to do that.

VH: As a program, you went from Anthony Richardson to Graham Mertz. What’s that transition been like, and how has he done?

JR: Yeah, it’s been a transition for sure. Preseason, a lot of people were pretty underwhelmed when Graham transferred to Florida, just because he is just nowhere near the same athlete that Anthony Richardson is. There’s pros and cons to both though. I think Graham has been much more accurate than AR ever was. Currently, he has like an 80% completion percentage, which is just kind of nuts. And he completed his last, I want to say 19 passes in the Kentucky game. He was really doing all he could to try to keep Florida in the game. So I think he’s a guy who is not lighting it up the same way AR was. He’s not really creating out of a mess like AR could. He doesn’t really have that ability necessarily, but I think he’s a guy who’s kind of doing a good job of doing what he’s supposed to and executing the Billy Napier scheme.

VH: What is the home-field advantage that Florida gets in the Swamp, for anyone who might be unacquainted with it? What can that be like for opposing players?

JR: Almost any stadium in the SEC is going to be a great environment. But I think the thing about the Swamp is you know, it’s 90,000 fans all over. There’s not a lot of space on the sidelines, so it’s very much as if the fans are on top of you. The way it’s constructed with the brick and everything, it’s really good at reverberating and sound. It gets very loud. I know during the Tennessee game, especially during that second quarter when Florida scored 20 points, the press box was shaking. It’s a tough environment. Obviously, a lot of teams will act like going into a tough environment won’t affect them. But as we’ve seen so far, especially under Billy Napier, teams have had a tough time coming into the Swamp and coming away with a victory.  You look at last year: South Carolina was a pretty good team, they lost 38-6. They got destroyed. You look at the Tennessee team this year, they had 20 points scored against them in the second second quarter, completely fell apart. So as much as Billy Napier is struggling on the road, I think he’s been doing a good job of taking advantage of those home games.

VH: So I’d say Vanderbilt’s biggest advantage is our corps of receivers. How do you think Florida’s defense will match up against them?

JR: Yeah, so looking at Florida secondary, it’s a lot of young guys. They have Jason Marshall, who’s a junior, but a lot of freshmen, a lot of sophomores. Opposite Jason Marshall is Devin Moore, he’s a sophomore corner. Jalen Kimber is another junior, but he’s kind of split his time. You look at Jordan Castell, he’s been one of the best young safeties in college football so far. He’s a true freshman playing games. My worries earlier the year were how was this young secondary going to hold up against these veteran receiving corps? And so far, they’ve answered the call. They looked great against Tennessee, gave up a couple of big plays. But other than that, they really slowed [Tennessee quarterback] Joe Milton down. Even though they kind of got run all over by Kentucky, if you look at [quarterback] Devin Leary’s statline, he was I believe 9-for-20 for 69 yards. So in terms of just the passing game, they were able to hold Kentucky to under 100 passing yards. So I look at this Gator secondary, and it’s a week-to-week thing in the SEC, you never know what’s going to happen. So you never know when you’re going to go up against a talented wide-receiver group that’s going to get the best of you. But I think what we’ve seen from Florida so far through five games is that this team can hold up almost against any SEC wide receiver corps.

VH: To put you on the spot, what’s your score prediction for Saturday?

JR: So looking at Saturday, I think the Gators are going to bounce back after that tough loss against Kentucky. I think Vanderbilt has the chance to maybe make it a game, but I do see Florida ultimately pulling away. I think that home-field advantage is going to be a huge factor. I think Graham Mertz’s consistency is going to be a big factor. So I’ll say the Gators win 31-14.

Vanderbilt will take on the Gators on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 3 p.m. CDT.

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About the Contributors
Frankie Sheehy, Former Deputy Sports Editor
Frankie Sheehy ('24) wrote for The Hustler Sports section and graduated from the College of Arts and Science with majors in economics and law, history and society. He was also the president of the Vanderbilt Chess Club and a superfan of the Chicago White Sox. You can reach him at [email protected].
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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