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Saturday November 5, 2011Home Sweet Home: Gators Defeat Vanderbilt, 26-21

There’s no place like home.

The University of Florida ended its four-game skid with a 26-21 victory over Vanderbilt on Homecoming at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Jeff Demps ran for 158 yards and a pair of touchdown, including a 52-yarder with 2:13 remaining as Florida (5-4, 3-4 SEC) held off a late Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-5 SEC) rally.

Florida built a 17-0 lead in the first half behind a Jacoby Brissett 1-yard run, a 5-yard run by Demps and a 55-yard field goal by Caleb Sturgis before Vanderbilt rallied in the fourth quarter. The Commodrores climbed back in behind quarterback Jordan Rodgers who has threw a 26-yard touchdown pass and rushed for an 8-yard touchdown in the second half to turn what at one point had looked like a game on the verge of being a blowout into a nail-biter.

Rodgers threw a 10-yard touchdown pass to Chris Boyd with 1:16 left but Vanderbilt’s onside kick was recovered by the Gators and Florida held on for its first victory since Sept. 24.  

Florida rolled up 410 yards of offense with its best balance since September, getting 213 yards passing and 197 yards rushing. Brantley completed 16-of-24 passes for 173 yards before leaving the game in the fourth quarter.

Vanderbilt got most of its 377 yards through the air and in the second half as Rodgers finished 19-of-28 passing for 297 yards and two touchdowns.

The Gators marched down the field on their first drive but came up empty-handed when Omarius Hines fumbled into the end zone at the end of a 40-yard completion from Brissett.

Demps carried the ball three times and picked up 15 yards, while Trey Burton hauled in a 15-yard pass from John Brantley (who has started and played almost entire game) to move the Gators into Vanderbilt territory. All of Brantley’s snaps had come out of the shot gun. Facing a third and short from the Vanderbilt 40-yard line, Brissett stepped under center, avoided a sack near midfield and found Hines for a long game, but he was stripped of the ball inside the 5-yard line and the Commodores recovered the ball in the end zone ending Florida’s threat.

Vanderbilt responded by marching down to the Gators 15-yard line as Rodgers, the younger brother of Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers of the Green Bay Packers, connected on 3-of-4 passes for 62 yards on the drive. Rodgers came up with a 34-yard and 20-yard strikes to Jordan Matthews to set up a 32-yard field goal attempt by Ryan Fowler, but Sharrif Floyd got a hand on it and blocked the attempt.

Florida got the ball back after the missed field goal and marched down to the Vanderbilt 32 on the legs of Demps. Sturgis made his return when the drive stalled, but missed a 49-yard field goal attempt with 1:26 left in the first quarter.

On the Gators’ third drive they marched 15 plays to finally take the lead. Brantley completed 3-4 passes for 33 yards on the 85-yard drive, while Michael Gillislee had four carries for 13 yards in his first action since the Auburn game. Facing a third-and-goal at the 1-yard line, Brissett gave Florida a 7-0 lead on a quarterback sneak with 8:39 left in the half.

After a quick stop by the Gator defense, Florida got the ball back and wasted no time at all, marching 60 yards on seven plays, including a 27-yard pass from Brantley to Andre Debose. Demps gave the Gators a two-touchdown lead with 4:45 left in the first half, taking the ball around the left side of the line from 5 yards out and going in untouched.   

The Gators got the ball back at their own 25 with 1:19 left in the half and rather than rest on a two-touchdown lead, they continued to attack. Brantley hit Frankie Hammond for a 12-yard gain, then followed with a 13-yard pass to Burton which was aided by an additional 15-yard face mask penalty. With :13 left in the half Sturgis nailed a 55-yard field goal, the second longest of his career and the fourth field goal of 50+ yards, tying a school record.

Vanderbilt got back into the game in the third quarter on its second possession, marching 78 yards on nine plays. Rodgers hit a wide open Matthews on a 26-yard touchdown pass with 5:44 remaining in the third quarter to get the Commodores on the board.

Florida wasted little time in getting back on the board, as they moved 45 yards on 10 plays to set up a 40-yard field goal by Sturgis with :58 left in the third quarter. Brantley completed a 12-yard pass to A.C. Leonard, while Gillislee had a pair of 11-yard runs to set up Sturgis’ field goal.

Rodgers marched Vanderbilt back down the field after getting the ball back. Rodgers found Matthews on an 18-yard connection on fourth and 12 from the Florida 36-yard line. Moments later Rodgers kept it and ran it in from 8-yards out on third-and-goal with 10:53 remaining.

Vanderbilt had the Gators where they wanted them, pinning them back at the 6-yard line after a near-perfect punt. The Gators facing a fourth-and-inches at their own 15-yard line. Brissett stepped in at quarterback after Brantley suffered an injury in the fourth quarter, and got Vanderbilt to jump extending the drive. Moments later Demps took the ball on third and short and raced 52 yards around the left-side to put Florida up 26-14 with 2:13 to go.

The Commodores did not go away, however, as Rodgers took Vanderbilt 80 yards in less than a minute and found Boyd in the right side of the end zone for a 10-yard touchdown with 1:16 remaining. Florida recovered the onside kick and secured the win, its 21st straight over Vanderbilt.

The Gators complete SEC play next weekend at South Carolina. Game time has yet to be announced.  

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