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Friday October 12, 2012Gators vs. Vanderbilt: 10 Things to Watch

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As they climbed from near the bottom of the polls to near the top, the Gators have met every challenge in the first half of the season.

They found their starting quarterback against Bowling Green. They went on the road and spoiled Texas A&M's SEC debut. They won at Tennessee when it seemed most didn't think they would. They beat Kentucky the way they usually beat Kentucky. And in the biggest challenge of all, the Gators upset No. 4-ranked LSU by outmuscling the Tigers at their own game.

The victory opened eyes. Florida is now considered a real threat to win the SEC East. Keep winning and who knows what could be next.

But the only next Florida coach Will Muschamp said he was concerned with this week is Vanderbilt, Florida's opponent here on Saturday night.

"They’re 2-3 right now, but went down to the wire with South Carolina in the first game of the year,'' Muschamp said. "They’re driving the ball to win the game and don’t convert a third down. [They] just came off a road win against Missouri, so we'll have our work cut out for us."

In Muschamp's first season, the Commodores threatened to upset the Gators before losing 26-21. It was the Gators' 21st consecutive win in the series.

As the Gators try to keep their perfect record intact -- and their streak over the Commodores alive -- here are 10 things to watch in Saturday's game:

FOCUS METER

Vanderbilt pops up on the schedule between LSU and South Carolina, two of the SEC's top teams.

Coming off the emotional win over LSU, the Gators can't afford a letdown against the Commodores if they want to keep the momentum rolling into a big SEC East showdown at home against the Gamecocks in a week.

Vanderbilt is coming off a road win at Missouri -- its first SEC road win under second-year coach James Franklin -- and would love nothing more than to make Florida's stay near the top of the polls a short one.

Muschamp likes the maturity and buy-in of his team and appeared confident this week that the Gators have the right mindset.

MORE DRISKEL

Florida sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel didn't have to throw much in the win over LSU considering the way the Gators ran the ball.

Still, expect Driskel to throw more than 12 passes. Driskel finished 8 of 12 for 61 yards and threw only four passes after halftime.

Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease both said this week that for the Gators to have continued success, they would need to develop more balance offensively than they showed against the Tigers. Vanderbilt is third in the SEC in pass defense (162.4 yards per game).

SECOND-HALF D

The Gators have owned the second half this season, outscoring opponents 78-13. In the fourth quarter they have been even better, shutting out opponents 41-0.

Florida is the only FBS team not to allow a point in the fourth quarter.

Florida's defense has been especially good of late. The Gators have allowed only one touchdown in the last 10 quarters, a 1-yard run by Tennessee's A.J. Johnson with 7:33 left in the third quarter on Sept. 15.

FLORIDA FANS

Vanderbilt officials announced Wednesday that Saturday's game was officially a sellout. That means you can expect a lot of Florida fans at Vanderbilt Stadium.

The sellout is Vanderbilt's first since Tim Tebow and the Gators rolled to a 42-14 win over the Commodores in 2008, and that crowd was loaded with orange-and-blue clad fans.

Based on reaction on Twitter, a large portion of Gator fans who call Tennessee home plan to be in Nashville.

THE OTHER RODGERS QUARTERBACK

Commodores redshirt senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns in The Swamp last season.

Rodgers, the younger brother of Packers QB Aaron Rodgers, is a dual-threat QB like Driskel. Rodgers has thrown for 831 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions.

He is sixth in the SEC in passing at 207.8 yards per game.

FLORIDA'S CORNERS VS. VANDY RECEIVERS

Rodgers is dangerous in the passing game in part because of a talented duo of wide receivers.

Jordan Matthews, who had 170 receiving yards against the Gators last season, leads the SEC with 35 catches for 486 yards and two touchdowns. Chris Boyd has 18 catches for 368 yards.

Florida cornerbacks Marcus Roberson, Jaylen Watkins and Loucheiz Purifoy face a stiff test to keep Matthews and Boyd quiet.

GILLY FACTOR

Gators senior running back Mike Gillislee might not talk a lot, but he has proven his ability as a featured back.

Gillislee leads the SEC in rushing and is coming off a 34-carry, 146-yard game against an excellent LSU defense that vaulted him onto the national radar.

Look for Gillislee to have a chance at another big game against the Commodores if his offensive line blocks like it did against LSU. Also, a strong running game should help Driskel have a few shots through the air.

If the Gators rush for 100 yards, their chances at a victory increase significantly. Under Muschamp, Florida is 12-2 when it rushes for 100 yards or more, 0-4 when it doesn't.

SHARRIF FLOYD

In the wake of Florida's upset of LSU came a lot of analysis from national media. A common theme seemed to emerge: Gators junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd is playing his best football.

While Floyd's stats aren't overwhelming -- he has 18 tackles, 3 1/2 for loss -- his impact in the interior line is. Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn both praised Floyd this week for the way he is playing in the trenches.

Floyd's run-stopping ability will be welcomed against Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy, who is eighth in the SEC with 413 yards rushing.

LET'S GET PHYSICAL

The Gators played as physical as they have in a long time in last week's win, led by safety Matt Elam in what Muschamp called his best game.

Florida's offensive line dominated LSU in the second half and the defense was hitting hard from the very first series.

With a depth and size advantage against Vanderbilt, the Gators have an opportunity to once again flex their muscles show that last week's physical effort was just the beginning.

KICKING ADVANTAGE

Gators kicker Caleb Sturgis and punter Kyle Christy might be the best tandem in the country. Sturgis has made 8 of 10 field goals and Christy leads the SEC in punting at 46.5 yards per game.

Christy flipped the field four times in the first half against LSU, pinning the Tigers inside their 10-yard line three times. The Gators would like not to have to rely on Sturgis or Christy to win Saturday, but if they do, they have two kickers performing at a high level.

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GATORS GAMEBOX

No. 4 Florida (5-0, 4-0 in SEC) at Vanderbilt (2-3, 1-2)

Kickoff: Saturday, 6 p.m. (Vanderbilt Stadium)

TV: ESPNU – Clay Matvick (play-by-play), Matt Stinchcomb (analyst) and Tom Luginbill (sideline)

Internet: ESPN3.com

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (click here for affiliates); GatorVision audio; XM 129; Sirius 129

Game notes: Florida; Vanderbilt

Bottom line: The Gators are on a roll and want to keep it going. A convincing win over the Commodores would be a good way to keep the momentum alive with a home game against No. 3-ranked South Carolina on the horizon.

 

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