No. 1 Florida 28, Vanderbilt 21
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) _ Top-ranked Florida got a reminder Saturday that everybody’s gunning for the Gators.
Florida pulled out a 28-21 victory on Saturday over Vanderbilt, the Southeastern Conference’s worst team, which scored 15 unanswered points in the middle of the second half and held the ball for most of the fourth quarter.
The Gators clinched a fifth straight SEC Eastern Division title with their 20th consecutive league victory.
``Obviously, I felt like we’d have a close game before the year’s out,″ said Steve Spurrier, who tied former coach Ray Graves as Florida’s winningest coach with 70 victories.
``I was very concerned. ... They played well, but we made some good plays. We could’ve played worse.″
The Gators (9-0, 7-0 SEC) played badly enough. They were flagged 17 times for 147 yards, the most ever for a Spurrier-coached team.
Vanderbilt’s blitzing defense also muffled the nation’s top offense to its lowest scoring output of the season. The Commodores held the Gators well below their 531-yard average with 388 yards.
Danny Wuerffel threw for four touchdowns, but he also lost a fumble, which was returned for a touchdown. He finished 18-of-28 for 283 yards and an interception.
``They did a phenomenal job,″ Wuerffel said. ``They were blitzing and fake blitzing. They had a really good plan. I could’ve done some things a little differently.″
Spurrier also credited Vandy’s defense for keeping the game close. He pointed out the same unit held Tennessee to just 12 points last season.
But tailback Elijah Williams, who carried 11 times for 49 yards, said the Gators hurt themselves.
``We didn’t execute. We can’t take no game, no team lightly, give any team a chance to get up and beat you. We didn’t play our best game. But a good team can play on a bad day, and we came out and still got the win,″ Williams said.
Florida led 28-6 when Vanderbilt (2-7, 0-6) threatened. Gators tackle Zach Piller left the game with an injury, and linebacker Jamie Duncan broke through the line on the next play. He stripped Wuerffel of the ball, picked it up off the bounce and ran in 31 yards for a TD.
Damian Allen tossed a pass to Todd Yoder in the corner of the end zone that cut the Gators’ lead to 28-14 with 2:07 to go in the third.
Vandy forced Florida to punt on the next series, and the Commodores needed only four plays to score when Jason Dunnvant broke through the line and scored on a 34-yard run with 13:21 left.
The Commodores had two chances to tie the game, but a 14-play drive stalled when a field goal missed right. Vandy moved to the Florida 47 with three minutes left but four straight passes fell incomplete.
``We had our chances, and ended up short,″ said Vandy coach Rod Dowhower.
Vanderbilt is in the midst of its 14th straight losing season. The Commodores had 235 yards total offense, led by Allen who was 10-of-27 for 113 yards.
``People say we tend to play the best against better teams,″ said cornerback Corey Chavous. ``We need to work on finishing those efforts with wins.″
But the Commodores can boast of doing something no other team has done this season. Vanderbilt, which now has lost the last seven games in the series, led the Gators 3-0 on Brett Speakman’s 27-yard field goal in the first quarter, set up when Rahim Batten blocked a punt by Jim Stevenson.
Florida didn’t let that last longer than a couple of minutes, responding with a 69-yard drive capped by Wuerffel’s first TD pass, a 14-yarder to Reidel Anthony.
That tied Wuerffel with Colorado’s Ty Detmer for career TD passes at 100. Wuerffel added two more in the half, a 28-yarder to Jacquez Green seconds into the second quarter and a 31-yarder to Ike Hilliard for a 21-3 halftime lead.
He added his fourth in the third quarter on a 9-yard pass to Green. He now has 28 this season, 103 in his career.