GAINESVILE -- In 2012, Florida turned the ball over just 15 times (with a plus-15 margin) and won 11 games. In 2013, the Gators have coughed up the football 17 times and are in the midst of an abysmal four-game losing streak.
“You throw it to them, you give it to them inside the 10-yard line three times, you’re not going to win,” said coach Will Muschamp, whose team is now 4-5 overall, 3-4 Southeastern Conference.
“We’re not good enough to overcome those things. We’ve gotta take care of the ball.”
Florida’s season is on life support following an embarrassing 34-17 loss to Vanderbilt on homecoming.
Fueled by three Tyler Murphy interceptions, the Commodores took advantage of short fields and scored touchdowns on drives lasting 10, 22 and 4 yards.
“We didn’t play very smart,” Muschamp said. “We didn’t take care of the football. And when those things happen, emotionally, it’s a killer. It’s a killer for your entire organization. So when you spot them the ball on the 4-yard line, right now we’re not strong enough mentally to handle that A year ago, maybe early in the year, we were. Right now, we’re not. It’s a ‘woe is me’ mentality right now. We’ve got to overcome that. Our leadership needs to step forward, you know, and that’s what, we’ll move forward with the guys who are wiling to accept challenges and opportunities that sometimes are difficult.”
Murphy threw for a career-high 305 yards, but he struggled most of the day until garbage time.
The Gators, lifeless and loathsome for much of the first three quarters, briefly showed a sense of urgency after Kelvin Taylor’s 4-yard touchdown run to make it a two-score game with 7:16 left in the third quarter.
But The Swamp’s smattered cheers were short-lived.
Instead, a disinterested Gators defense promptly surrendered any sliver of momentum.
For the second week in a row, UF’s No. 10-ranked defense was pummeled for a long and demoralizing game-sealing drive.
“Somebody’s got to make a play, somebody’s got to get off a block, somebody’s got to create a turnover,” Muschamp said. “You know, somebody’s got to create a momentum swing for your football team.”
Vanderbilt, behind redshirt freshman quarterback Patton Robinette and tailback Jerron Seymour, gutted the Gators for 85 yards on 17 plays — chewing up nearly eight minutes — and capped the drive with Seymour’s 1-yard run.
The Commodores converted three third downs and one fourth down on the drive.
UF allowed just 187 total yards, but VU converted six third and fourth downs leading to five red-zone scores.
UF’s front four again labored controlling the point of attack in key situations, while its linebackers continued to take poor angles and struggled tackling.
“We’re not that kind of defense. We’re taught not to let the other team score. We’re known for being a nasty defense,” sophomore defensive end Dante Fowler Jr. said. “We have to get that back. We’re gonna keep fighting.”
Florida and Vanderbilt entered the day with the two worst pass-protecting offensive lines in the conference.
After rebounding with a solid performance in the loss to Georgia, UF’s makeshift offensive line did Murphy few favors. The redshirt junior, already struggling with accuracy and pocket-awareness issues, was hounded for five sacks and four hurries.
Although Vanderbilt’s offense was more conservative, the Gators tallied two sacks and two hurries on just 12 drop-backs.
THIS & THAT
Former Gator wideout Chris Doering, a seven-year NFL veteran, was this week’s celebrity “Mr. Two Bits,” leading the pregame cheers. Doering, initially a walk-on and local product from Gainesville P.K. Yonge High School, stared at UF under Steve Spurrier from 1992-95. The receiver ranks first all-time in school and league history with 31 career touchdown receptions. … UF freshman wideout Ahmad Fulwood notched his first-career touchdown reception (11-yarder) late in the fourth quarter. … Vandy’s Jordan Matthews, the SEC’s third-leading receiver (111.3 y/g), was held to a season-low 45 yards on five catches. … Penalties were a problem again for UF, as Florida was flagged 11 times for 97 yards. The Gators, who lead the conference in flags per game (7.8), have been penalized for a least 70-plus yards six times this season.