Vanderbilt falls 38-17 to Florida, drops to 0-7

Ken Seals threw for over 300 yards for the third time this season, but it wasn’t enough to keep up with the high-powered Florida offense which racked up 586 yards of total offense.

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Ken Seals and Chris Pierce Jr. celebrate Pierce’s first touchdown reception against the Florida Gators. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel)

Alyssa Muir, Deputy Sports Editor

The Vanderbilt Commodores hung tough early, but eventually fell 38-17 to the sixth-ranked Florida Gators

Unlike Vanderbilt’s other games this season, where they have been outscored 66-3 in first quarters, the Commodores jumped on top early and led 10-7 at the end of the first quarter. 

“We’re a football team that needed to get off to a fast start and we did that today,” Coach Derek Mason said. “We got off to a pretty fast start and got exactly what we wanted. I think we pressured a little bit on defense at times. And offensively we were able to take advantage of just having momentum and utilizing tempo early.”

The Commodores utilized an up-tempo offense that kept the Gator defense off-balance. On its first drive, Vanderbilt marched 75 yards down the field in 11 plays. The drive was capped off with a beautifully-placed ball by Ken Seals, who took advantage of a free play thanks to Brenton Cox Jr. jumping offside for Florida. Seals threw a laser of a pass into the hands of Chris Pierce Jr., who had Gator cornerback Kaiir Elam draped all over him, for a 16-yard touchdown reception. 

On their next drive, the Commodores again moved the ball with ease as Seals found multiple different receivers for big gains. One of these receivers was freshman Will Sheppard, who recorded his first career reception on a masterful 24-yard leaping grab over the head of Florida cornerback Marco Wilson. Vanderbilt was only able to come away with a field goal, however, as the Mike Wright redzone package wasn’t successful. 

Vanderbilt ended the first quarter with a 10-7 lead, making it the first time Florida has trailed after a quarter all year. 

On the defensive side of the ball, Vanderbilt was initially successful in slowing down the high-powered Florida offense which came into the game third in the SEC in total offense. After an easy first drive for Kyle Trask and company, which ended in a 27-yard touchdown reception for Kadarius Toney, the defense settled in and made life extremely difficult for the Gator offense on their next few possessions. 

On Florida’s second drive, Andre Mintze broke past the offensive line on third down and managed to spin Trask into his own lineman for a big sack. The Commodores made another big third-down stop on Florida’s next drive as Elijah Hamilton blew up a screen pass to Toney. 

“We did some things in terms of some different looks for Trask,” Mason said. “He struggled a little more in the first half just [not] having clean looks.”

Vanderbilt hung on to their 10-7 lead for much of the first half, but the tides started to turn with just over eleven minutes left in the second quarter. The Commodores drove into Florida territory but an illegal formation penalty followed by a false start violation on pretty much the entire offense stalled the drive and forced a punt. 

Florida followed that up with a field goal to tie the game and then forced a three-and-out on the Commodores’ next possession. The Gators took the lead on their next drive as Trevon Grimes caught a jump ball from Trask for a touchdown. The ball came loose as Grimes hit the ground and after review, the officials ultimately decided not to reverse the call. 

Vanderbilt punted two more times before the first half ended and the Gators carried a 17-10 lead into halftime. Florida’s 17 points was the team’s lowest scoring first half of the season.

“This ball game came down to what we didn’t do,” Mason said. “When you look at us offensively, what we needed to do with our last possession of the half. And really what we needed to do on backside of it, coming out and matching the intensity Florida came out with in the second half [and we didn’t do it].”

The Gators had the first possession of the second half and they marched down the field in 12 plays, capping off the drive with a one yard rushing score by Dameon Pierce, and putting the game practically out of reach for Vanderbilt. 

After Vanderbilt punted on its fifth consecutive drive, Florida drove all the way down the field before Kemore Gamble hauled in a two yard touchdown pass from Trask. 

Down 31-10, the Commodore offense finally got back on track on its next drive starting with a toe-tapping catch by Amir Abdur-Rahman on the sideline. A couple plays later, Pierce Jr. took a Seals pass 58 yards and outran everybody en route to the end zone, breaking multiple tackles on his way, for his second touchdown of the game. Unfortunately for Vanderbilt, it was too little too late at this point. 

“I wanted to score,” Pierce said of the touchdown. “I was determined to score. I knew the team needed motivation, so I took it onto my hands to be that person on that play.”

The Gators tacked on another touchdown towards the end of the fourth quarter as backup quarterback Emory Jones found Gamble for a 30 yard score, making it a 38-17 victory for Florida. 

Seals had another solid outing for Vanderbilt, going 22-33 for 319 yards and two scores. He has now thrown for over 300 yards in three of his last four starts. Pierce Jr. was another bright spot with his two touchdown grabs, making it four consecutive games that he has reached the end zone. 

For the Gators, Trask, who started off slowly by his standards, finished 26-35 for 383 yards and three touchdowns. Florida had 586 yards of total offense. 

The Commodores will be back in action next week when they host their cross-state rivals, the Tennessee Volunteers.