Antonio Morrison once played an entire game against Vanderbilt with a torn meniscus.
Two years later, Florida’s star linebacker doesn’t bemoan his then-season-ending injury, but he still carries memories from a hollow Homecoming.
“I just remember losing,” Morrison recalled, citing the Commodores’ shocking 31-17 win in The Swamp in 2013. “That was like the first time we lost — in I don’t know how many years — we lost to that team. It was real hurtful in the locker room. It was just bad. It’s just bad to even try to remember that.”
But the No. 11 Gators do remember that stunning upset, and they want a little revenge — with some icing on the top, too.
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Florida (7-1, 5-1 Southeastern Conference) is a three-touchdown favorite against Vanderbilt (3-5, 1-3) and can clinch a spot in the SEC Championship Game with a win Saturday.
First-year coach Jim McElwain has expedited a dramatic turnaround, as Florida is in the thick of the College Football Playoff hunt at No. 10 exactly two years after losing to Vanderbilt at home for the first time since 1945.
Although externally the “noise” is on Atlanta and beyond, the Gators are simply focused on their next opportunity.
“We’ve got a lot ahead of us. But we aren’t looking toward Atlanta, because if we do, we won’t get there,” McElwain said. “I don’t know if we understand the position we put ourselves in, but I do know what it is to get there and what it takes to get there. What that simply is is you’ve got to focus on what you do to prepare yourself to go play the best you can at noon [Saturday].”
Vanderbilt enters on a tailspin. The Commodore have won just one conference game in two years under coach Derek Mason, and they lost 34-0 last week at Houston. Although they tout a stingy defense, they rank No. 125 in scoring offense and No. 122 in turnover margin (minus-11).
They hardly match up well with the Gators, either, who rank second nationally in turnover margin (plus-13) and have one of the fiercest defenses in the country.
Still, Florida refuses to take Vanderbilt lightly — mainly because it can’t afford to.
“We ain’t good enough to roll the ball out against anybody,” McElwain said.
The Gators have flaws, but they’ve found success this season because of preparation, focus and a looseness. They’ve embraced that mind-set this week, too, particularly with so many distractions (CFP implications, SEC title game, Homecoming).
“We’re not looking at Atlanta, man. We’re looking at Vandy,” Morrison said. “You get beat looking ahead.”
“It’s become more than just getting your belly rubbed at this point,” he said. “Let’s call it the way it is: We’ve got an opportunity to go win a ballgame and solidify us being in Atlanta. That’s the way it should be. That’s why you come to the University of Florida.
“Yet, we have obstacles ahead of us in how we prepare, how we go about our business. How we handle this will be really good. It will be good to see. We’ve got some seniors who have had a long spell. We’ve had a bunch of guys that have been on this football team two years ago that played these same guys, I think, in a homecoming that probably did not come out real favorable for the Gators.
“There’s a lot of things there. And for a lot of reasons. … There’s a lot of reasons that we might not play good this week. We’ll see.”
Saturday: Vanderbilt at No. 11 Florida
Kickoff: Noon; Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida Field, Gainesville.
TV/radio: ESPN; WINZ 940.
Favorite: Florida by 21.
Records: Florida 7-1 (5-1 SEC); Vanderbilt 3-5 (1-3 SEC).
Series: Florida leads 36-10-2.
Florida injuries: Questionable — DL Khairi Clark (undisclosed). Doubtful — LB Alex Anzalone (shoulder); OL David Sharpe (foot). Out — K Jorge Powell (knee).
Vanderbilt injuries: Questionable — WR Isaiah McKenzie (hamstring); CB Reggie Wilkerson (undisclosed); WR Shakenneth Williams (undisclosed). Out — RB Nick Chubb (knee); LB Reggie Carter (shoulder); FB Christian Payne (fibula); WR Justin Scott-Wesley (knee).