NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Zac Stacy broke through the line on a wildcat play, sprinting 57 yards for a touchdown putting Vanderbilt back on top of fourth-ranked Florida.
Too bad a flag for holding wiped it off the board and ended the celebration.
Mistakes, ill-timed penalties and too many big plays cost Vanderbilt as the Commodores lost 31-17 to fourth-ranked Florida on Saturday night.
“You can’t make those type mistakes against the No. (4) team in the country in your stadium,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. “That can’t happen, and those areas where on offense we got to make plays when we have opportunities to make plays. We had opportunities to make plays and didn’t do it. Too many dropped balls in critical situations.”
The Commodores (2-4, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) lost their 22nd straight to Florida (6-0, 5-0) and haven’t beaten the Gators since 1988 in Nashville.
Trailing 11-7, the Commodores came out of halftime putting together their longest drive of the season, chewing up more than eight minutes even after Stacy’s erased TD. But they failed to score and watched the Gators grab back momentum after a series of big plays including a blocked field goal, a fake punt and three touchdown runs by Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel.
Florida ran for 326 of its 403 yards even with three starting linemen out with injuries. Center Jonatthan Harrison, left guard James Wilson and left tackle Xavier Nixon didn’t play, and the Gators had some receiver Latroy Pittman, linebacker Michael Taylor and tight end Jordan Reed injured during the game.
“It says a lot about our guys stepping up and manning up,” Florida coach Will Muschamp.
Vanderbilt now has lost 47 straight against Top Five teams in front of its first sellout crowd since Florida’s visit in 2008.
The Gators also had three sacks, forced a turnover, blocked a field goal and used a fake punt to put away Vanderbilt. Caleb Sturgis kicked three field goals.
Florida did give up its first points in the fourth quarter this season as Zac Stacy scored on a 1-yard run with 8:57 left, pulling the Commodores within 21-14. Carey Spear’s second field goal, a 22-yarder, with 2:35 left to pull Vanderbilt within 24-17 after Stacy had a Rodgers’ pass go through his hands on third-and-goal.
Each time, the Gators answered in a big way. First, Andre Debose returned the kickoff 60 yards as he bounced off a couple Commodores to set up Sturgis’ 26-yard field goal. The Commodores had a short kick after pulling within 24-17, and Driskel went 70 yards on the next play for the sealing TD.
Driskel finished with 177 yards rushing on 11 carries for a school record by a quarterback. Tim Tebow ran for 166 yards on 27 carries in 2007 against Mississippi. The Commodores focused too much on Gators running back Mike Gillislee.
“We did not adjust well to the quarterback running game,” Franklin said. “That’s on me. It will get fixed.”
Vanderbilt used an interference penalty on a punt to take its only lead at 7-0 in the first quarter. Jordan Rodgers threw a 10-yard TD pass to Jordan Matthews in the back of the right corner.
Driskel capped a 91-yard drive when he faked a handoff to Gillislee so well that the Florida quarterback ran back to his left and up the sideline untouched 37 yards for a touchdown. Trey Burton then took a direct snap and ran in for 2-point conversion and an 8-7 lead with 11:27 left in the second.
“The fakes weren’t that great,” Vandy linebacker Archibald Barnes said of Driskel’s fakes. “They executed better than we did. We had a plan to stop it, and we did stop it a couple times. And a couple times it spurted out and that turned out to be a big play.”
Florida led 11-7 at halftime even after failing to convert after getting first-and-goal at the Vanderbilt 2 before settling for a Sturgis field goal.
Vanderbilt had its chances, especially on the opening drive of the third quarter. Stacy took a direct snap in the wildcat and went up the middle to the end zone. Matthews was flagged for holding as he grabbed the shoulder of a Gators defender, wiping out the TD.
They still drove to the Florida 7 before a false start, then Rodgers was sacked by Josh Evans. Earl Okine blocked Spear’s 44-yard field goal attempt and Loucheiz Purifoy recovered, finally getting Florida the ball for the first time in the half with 6:17 left in the third.
The Commodores forced Florida to punt three plays later, but the Gators caught Vanderbilt with a fake punt. Patton ran up the left sideline 54 yards to the Commodores 3. A hold wiped out a touchdown, then the Commodores bit again on Driskel’s fake handoff as he ran 13 yards untouched for his second TD late in the third.
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