NASHVILLE, Tenn. - The University of Florida football team scored 41 points in the first half and never looked back, defeating Southeastern Conference Eastern Division foe Vanderbilt, 55-14, Saturday afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium. With their 20th consecutive victory over the Commodores (2-7, 1-5 SEC), the Gators improved to 6-3 overall and 4-3 in league play. Florida’s 41 first-half points were the most in a half against a SEC team since scoring 49 in the first half at Kentucky on Sept. 24, 2005. The 55 total points were the most by UF on the road in a SEC game since a 55-28 win at Kentucky on Sept. 27, 1997.
The Gators scored in all three phases of the game, led by redshirt junior Chris Rainey (Lakeland, Fla.), who blocked two punts on the day that each led to scores and caught four passes for a career-high 75 yards and a touchdown. Redshirt junior John Brantley (Ocala, Fla.) led the Gators in the air, finishing the day 11-of-18 for 157 yards and two touchdowns. On the ground, sophomore Mike Gillislee (DeLand, Fla.) ran nine times for 57 yards and had a team-high two rushing touchdowns. Redshirt freshman Jordan Reed (New London, Conn.) also had two scores, finishing 11-of-19 passing for 120 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Reed also ran for a game-high 84 yards on 16 carries.
Florida’s defense was anchored by several impressive individual performances that had 13 combined tackles for loss, four sacks, two forced fumbles and one interception. Redshirt freshman Jelani Jenkins (Olney, Md.) registered a team-high eight tackles, while freshman Sharrif Floyd (Philadelphia, Pa.) tallied a career-high seven tackles, including three for loss. Collecting sacks for the Gators were seniors Brandon Hicks (Jacksonville, Fla.), A.J. Jones (Tampa, Fla.), Duke Lemmens (Westlake Village, Calif.) and Justin Trattou (Ramsey, N.J.). Florida’s only interception of the day came from sophomore Josh Evans (Irvington, N.J.), who returned his first career interception 36 yards.
The Gators scored first for the second consecutive week after a three-yard rushing touchdown by Gillislee with 8:47 remaining in the first quarter. The Deland native’s fifth rushing touchdown of the season was set up two plays earlier when Rainey registered Florida’s first blocked punt of the 2010 campaign. The block was the first time in 15 games that UF blocked a punt, when Rainey blocked a Mississippi State punt on Oct. 24, 2009.
Florida doubled its lead on the first play of the second quarter by capping a nine-play, 71-yard scoring drive with a 31-yard touchdown pass from Reed to redshirt junior Deonte Thompson (Belle Glade, Fla.). The throw from Reed was his first career passing attempt, while the reception from Thompson marked his first trip to the end zone this season.
The Orange and Blue improved its lead to 21-0 with a 40-yard throw from Brantley to Rainey to conclude a five-play, 56-yard drive. The play began when freshman Trey Burton (Venice, Fla.) took the snap and appeared to run up the middle, but pitched it back to Brantley for the flea-flicker completion to Rainey for the score.
On the following drive, redshirt sophomore Lerentee McCray (Ocala, Fla.) forced his first career fumble on the second play, leading to a 45-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown by redshirt senior Terron Sanders (Bradenton, Fla.). The return was Sanders’ first career touchdown, and also marked the first time in 46 games that the Gators returned a fumble for a touchdown, when former Gator Dustin recorded a 18-yard touchdown return vs. Tennessee on Sept. 15, 2007. Florida senior Chas Henry (Dallas, Ga.) missed his first-career extra point attempt, giving the Gators a 27-0 lead.
The Gators’ next offensive drive ended with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Brantley to redshirt sophomore Frankie Hammond (Hollywood, Fla.), padding Florida’s lead to 34-0 before halftime. The 39-yard catch by Hammond marked a career high. The 10-play, 98-yard scoring drive was the longest drive since a 14-play, 98-yard touchdown drive at Ole Miss on Sept. 22, 2007.
Rainey blocked his second punt of the afternoon on the following possession, leading to a 42-yard touchdown return by freshman Solomon Patton (Mobile, Ala.), the wide receiver’s first-career touchdown. The score gave the Gators a 41-0 cushion and marked the first time in 18 games (Sept. 26, 2009 at Kentucky) that the Gators blocked a punt for a touchdown. The second blocked punt of the game marked the first time since the 2008 game at Vanderbilt that the Gators blocked two punts in a game (27 games).
Vanderbilt appeared on the scoreboard on the first Gators’ possession of the second half, when the Commodores’ Ryan van Rensburg blocked a Henry punt and Vanderbilt defensive back Javon Marshall picked up the football and returned it for a four-yard touchdown. The play was the first time in 56 games (at Auburn on Oct. 14, 2006) that the Gators had a blocked punt returned for a touchdown.
The Commodores gave the game its final score of 55-14 with a six-yard pass from Jared Funk to Jordan Matthews with 39 seconds left in the game.
Wesley Tate led the Commodores on offense with seven carries for 41 yards, while Vanderbilt quarterback Larry Smith finished 7-of-18 for 28 yards. Commodores’ linebacker Chris Marve tallied a game-high 10 tackles.
Florida will battle South Carolina next Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the right to represent the SEC East in Atlanta for the 2010 SEC Championship Game. The game will kick off at 7:15 p.m. and will be shown nationally on either ESPN or ESPN2.