Behind Enemy Bylines: Florida Gators

The Vanderbilt Hustler caught up with Michael Hull of the University of Florida’s The Independent Florida Alligator to preview the Commodores’ upcoming matchup with Florida.

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Truman McDaniel

Ken Seals throws against the Florida Gators on Nov. 21, 2020. (Hustler Multimedia/Truman McDaniel)

Anish Mago, Staff Writer

Coming off of a dramatic 30-28 victory over UConn last week, the Vanderbilt Commodores will face the No. 20 Florida Gators on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville. The Commodores started the season 1-3, but are looking to turn their season around after winning last Saturday in a thrilling finish. However, the Gators will come into the game also looking to turn their season around after a frustrating loss to rival Kentucky last weekend. Facing a very talented and motivated squad, the Commodores will encounter a difficult test on the road early in the season. 

The Hustler went Behind Enemy Bylines and interviewed Michael Hull of the University of Florida’s The Independent Florida Alligator to preview this Saturday’s matchup. 

Vanderbilt Hustler: Quarterback Emory Jones has been extremely inconsistent as a passer thus far to start the season. What have been the main causes of his struggles and what can Vanderbilt do to slow him down?

Michael Hull: I think Emory has been a lot better since the first half of the Alabama game after he threw a bad interception. But since then, I really think he’s been a good quarterback. He’s taking what the defense is giving him, he’s completing a high percentage of his passes and he’s running the ball well. He didn’t play that well against Kentucky last week, so I’m interested to see how he bounces back. He’s a dual threat with great running ability but he also has the arm to throw deep if called for. Coach [Dan] Mullen and the offense haven’t called for Emory to throw it deep that much but he definitely has that in his arsenal. 

One of the main things that could slow him down would be to take away that running aspect of his game and force him to make throws from the pocket. We’ve seen him do that before but it is much more inconsistent. I think if you take away that secondary threat of him running the ball and make him be a pocket passer, that would be the most effective way to slow him down.

Going into Saturday, the Gators currently rank fourth in rushing in the FCS. Which players have been leading that attack and what has made it so difficult to slow down?

Emory Jones is obviously a big part of that rushing attack and so is Anthony Richardson, the backup quarterback, but his impact was more in the opening weeks of the season. The stable of running backs that Florida has is really impressive; they have five guys that can all contribute. Malik Davis had led the way in that group, but there’s also Dameon Pierce and Nay’Quan Wright as secondary options. On top of that, they also have two home run hitters at the back end of that group in Lorenzo Lingard and Demarkcus Bowman. 

The attack is extremely hard to stop because they all have different abilities as running backs. As I said, Bowman and Lingard are more big-play guys—Bowman is averaging over seven yards per carry this year. Anthony Richardson and Emory Jones as quarterbacks obviously have that dual-threat ability. Malik Davis is the main guy and has the most attempts, averaging almost six yards per carry. Pierce is a great goal-line back, while Davis and Wright have both become great receiving backs. Overall, they have a lot of diverse talents and make it hard to know what’s coming when there are seven guys who can carry the ball.

After a frustrating loss versus Kentucky last week, what is the morale of the team like and how do you expect them to respond?

Last week was definitely a surprising and tough loss. Jacob Copeland, senior wideout, called it “unacceptable” at media [availability] yesterday. Players talking yesterday said the morale of the team was high and they’re going to come out more focused and more ready to go. I think last week was a result of mental mistakes and overlooking the opponent. They had 15 penalties for 115 yards and eight false start penalties on the offense. There was definitely a lack of focus going into Kentucky that will not be there the rest of the season. Even if their SEC Championship hopes may be a pipedream at this point, everyone seems to have a positive attitude. They’re really just focused on beating Vanderbilt and taking the season one game at a time. There is still a lot to play for, so moving on from last week will be huge, and it’ll be interesting to see how Coach Mullen has them ready to play. 

Vanderbilt has also struggled with an erratic passing attack this season. How has the Gators’ secondary performed this season and who are its key contributors?

The secondary has definitely been the Gators’ weakness defensively. They’ve been very strong in the run game, but the secondary has been suspect, outside of Kaiir Elam. He’s been a monster, like everyone expected he would be. Elam has been a lockdown corner, but behind him is a lot of inexperience. Florida lost Jaydon Hill, who was going to be the No.1 corner, to a torn ACL in camp before the season started. They’ve had to adjust to that, which definitely was not easy, considering the injury happened a couple weeks before the season started. They have a lot of talent to fill the No. 2 role, but there is a lot of inexperience. Nobody has really stood out thus far, so it’s been a “rotating door” so to speak at that spot. Another main thing to discuss about the secondary is that while they are very talented, they’ve struggled with the basics of the game, like tackling. For instance, Florida had 14 missed tackles versus Alabama in Week 3, and 10 of those were missed by the secondary. That’s something to definitely keep an eye on—the short passing game and receivers in open space versus the secondary.

What is your score prediction for this Saturday’s game?

I think Florida’s going to come into this game ready to go. I can’t really see Vanderbilt getting into the end zone versus a very talented Florida defense. Florida 45, Vanderbilt 6.