MUIR: Commodores need to convert on third-downs, limit sacks to upset the Gators

Vanderbilt faces #10 Florida in Gainesville on Saturday, and the Commodores need a win to avoid dropping to 2-7 for the season.

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MUIR: Commodores need to convert on third-downs, limit sacks to upset the Gators

Vanderbilt hosts Florida on October 13, 2018.

Vanderbilt hosts Florida on October 13, 2018.

Hunter Long

Vanderbilt hosts Florida on October 13, 2018.

Hunter Long

Hunter Long

Vanderbilt hosts Florida on October 13, 2018.

Alyssa Muir, Senior Writer

Coming off of a demoralizing 24-7 loss at the hands of South Carolina, Vanderbilt travels to Gainesville this weekend as a massive 25.5-point underdog to the tenth-ranked Florida Gators. Pulling off an upset in the Swamp seems like a near impossible task considering neither quarterback Mo Hasan nor quarterback Riley Neal are expected to play, and the projected starting quarterback Deuce Wallace struggled mightily against the Gamecocks last week. With all that being said, the Gators are coming off a one-touchdown loss to Georgia and have pretty much said goodbye to their SEC East championship hopes, so it remains to be seen just what level of focus and motivation head coach Dan Mullen’s squad has left in the tank.  

In order to pull off the upset this weekend, the Commodores will need to take advantage of the defensive weaknesses that the Gators showed last week against the Bulldogs, namely their inability to get third down stops and their lack of pressure on the quarterback.  

Last Saturday, Florida allowed Georgia to convert on 12 out of 18 third down opportunities with only a few of those being third-and-short situations. As a result, the Gators only ran 52 plays, and the offense never got into any sort of rhythm until it was too late. Up until this point, the Commodore offense has been flat out awful on third downs, converting just 28.6 percent of their chances, which ranks 126th nationally. If Vanderbilt converts at that low of a rate against the Gators, the game is going to get ugly fast. However, if the Commodores are just able to convert on around 40 to 45 percent of their third down opportunities, their chances vastly improve. They will be able to tire out the Florida defense which will help running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn attack the front seven by the end of the game, which in turn will keep the Gator’s numerous offensive weapons off of the field. 

One of the biggest reasons why the Gators could not get off the field on defense: their inability to apply any pressure whatsoever on Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm. Fromm was not sacked a single time, and he was rarely even rushed at all while dropping back, leading to easy throw after easy throw. Establishing a clean pocket will be key for the Commodore offense. Wallace has little experience, and this will be his first career start, so the last thing Vanderbilt needs is for Wallace to be scrambling around to avoid pressure the entire game. So far, the Commodores have done a pretty good job at protecting their many quarterbacks, only allowing two sacks a game which is tied for 57th nationally. Florida’s two top pass rushers, defensive lineman Jabari Zuniga and linebacker Johnathan Greenard have both been battling high ankle sprains for the last month, and neither appeared to be at full strength against Georgia. It will be interesting to see how much those guys play against Vanderbilt.  

The bottom line is that Vanderbilt is massively outmatched from a talent standpoint compared to Florida. However, the Gators are coming off a heartbreaking loss, and the Commodores should be playing for head coach Derek Mason, whose job security remains in question, so you never know how the game will play out. Recent games between these two teams have been astonishingly close, and one would have to think that the Commodores will steal one game eventually. 

If Vanderbilt can capitalize on third downs and keep the pocket relatively clean for Wallace, the team will have a chance to make the game competitive and possibly come away with an upset for the ages in the end. 

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