Vanderbilt is limping into a homecoming game against a red-hot Florida Gators squad. The Commodores got crushed by Georgia in Athens last week, while Florida knocked off #5 LSU at home. The Gators are ranked #14 in the nation after reeling off four straight wins.
Vanderbilt has been troubled by talented defenses all season. The 17 points Vanderbilt scored against Notre Dame in Week Three are the most the Commodores have scored against a Power Five defense this year.
Florida has relied on its defense, which is one of the best in the country. Florida leads the country in fumble recoveries with 11, and the Gators have also grabbed six interceptions this season.
Here are three matchups that will define the game:
Kyle Shurmur vs. Florida’s Defensive Line
Quarterback Kyle Shurmur struggled against South Carolina and Georgia and combined for just 349 passing yards in those games. Last year against the Gators, he threw for 264 yards and three touchdowns to keep the score close for much of the game.
Shurmur needs to find a way to extend plays because Vanderbilt’s offensive line will have trouble containing an aggressive Gator defensive line. He has never been much of a mobile quarterback, but he may be flushed out of the pocket often on Saturday.
Florida’s defense has sacked opposing quarterbacks 20 times, which is the most of any SEC team. Vanderbilt has only allowed six sacks on the year, but the offensive line has not faced a defense anywhere near Florida’s caliber. Shurmur could get sacked five or six times if he can’t find a way to extend plays with his legs.
Vanderbilt Defense vs. Kadarius Toney
Toney is Florida’s Swiss Army knife on offense. He played quarterback in high school, but has started games at both running back and wide receiver for the Gators. Toney is averaging 9.8 yards per rush and 10.6 yards per reception. He also threw for a touchdown pass against Mississippi State.
Vanderbilt’s defense has not faced a player as dynamic as Toney this season. Defensive coordinator Jason Tarver will need to make sure his players pay close attention in film study because Dan Mullen uses Toney in so many ways on offense.
Vanderbilt vs. Momentum
Florida has all the momentum heading into this game. The Gators upset LSU last week, and have beaten Tennessee and Mississippi State in conference play. Their only loss was to a Kentucky team that is better than anyone expected.
Vanderbilt, on the other hand, has lost three of its last four games, with the only win coming over FCS Tennessee State. Vanderbilt has not played well since the second half of the Notre Dame game in Week Three.
Vanderbilt needs to get off to a quick start to be able to compete with the Gators for four quarters. If Vanderbilt falls behind early, this matchup could look a lot like last week’s 41-13 loss to Georgia.