University of Florida

Florida Gators reach new depths with loss to Vanderbilt

Presidential candidate George Bush was telling voters to read his lips. Cosby dominated TV’s airwaves. A failed drug test sent Olympic 100-meter champ Ben Johnson home in disgrace. A catchy tune urged folks to Don’t Worry, Be Happy.

The year was 1988, the last time Florida lost a football game to Vanderbilt.

Until Saturday. And you probably wouldn’t want to read the lips of the unhappy homecoming crowd leaving Ben Hill Griffin Stadium midway through the second half.

“Yeah, I saw them leaving,” offensive lineman Jon Halapio said after the 34-17 defeat marked the Gators’ fourth consecutive loss.

“It’s definitely devastating, losing to Vanderbilt. But they’re a good team and they beat us. … We’ve just got to look ourselves in the mirror individually. I’ve never been through adversity like this.”

Jerron Seymour, a former Hialeah High standout, ran for three touchdowns as the Commodores took advantage of four UF turnovers to beat the Gators (4-5, 3-4 SEC) for the first time since pretty much anyone on either roster was born.

Vanderbilt won despite collecting just 12 first downs and 187 yards of total offense — all but 57 coming on the ground.

“If you look at it statistically, it doesn’t make a whole lot of sense,” Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said.

UF’s Tyler Murphy threw for 305 yards with a touchdown — an 11-yarder to Ahmad Fullwood that caromed off a defender’s hand and foot — but three interceptions kept the Gators from getting into rhythm. He also fumbled just before halftime, and UF squandered three time-consuming drives that netted nothing more than a field goal.

“We didn’t do enough to make them earn the win,” said UF coach Will Muschamp, now enduring his second four-game losing streak in the past three seasons.

Losing to LSU, Missouri and Georgia is one thing. But the Gators hadn’t slipped up once in their previous 22 encounters against Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4).

There were a few close ones, sure, including a two-overtime scare in 2005. But no losses.

Moreover, it was the Gators’ most lopsided loss in the series since a 20-0 blanking in 1946. And not since 1945 had Vanderbilt come to Gainesville and left with a victory — their first meeting.

It was so dispiriting, in fact, that the Swamp began emptying out even before the traditional singing of We Are the Boys From Old Florida after the third quarter.

Then again, only eight Gators bothered to head to the southeast corner after the game to join the band for Florida, Our Alma Mater

“I thought we only did it when we win,” Murphy said.

Said linebacker Dante Fowler: “Everybody’s frustrated. We’ve lost four straight and that’s not how it goes at Florida. … It’s embarrassing for the program, but that’s the way it is.”

Nor does the road ahead get any easier. Florida travels next week to No.12 South Carolina, with Florida State’s juggernaut waiting two weeks hence.

Assuming the Gators knock off Georgia Southern during the week in between, they still need to beat one of the other two to avoid another historical clunker — ending their 22-year run of bowl invitations.

The Gators haven’t missed a postseason since 1990, when they were forced to stay home by NCAA sanctions. The last time they sat out because of their own ineptitude was 1986, when they finished 6-5 under Galen Hall.

It also would result in UF’s first losing season since 1979, an 0-10-1 campaign in the first year of Charley Pell’s checkered term.

“Everyone in that locker room came to Florida to win, and we’re not winning,” Murphy said. “As players, we know that’s not acceptable.”

An aggravated Gator Nation voiced its frustration shortly before halftime, raining down boos as UF made a mess of a first-and-goal situation after a long drive to the Vanderbilt 1.

Murphy pitched the ball out of bounds on a botched option and threw a pass at Tyler Burton’s feet before Solomon Patton dropped a third-and-goal pass. The Gators settled for a Brad Phillips field goal.

“Just a miscommunication between me and the line,” said Murphy, who audibled into the option on first-and-goal. “Once again, we shot ourselves in the foot in the red zone.”

As for the boos, Muschamp said: “They pay their ticket, they can boo all they want. That’s good. Now it doesn’t help our program, but that’s fine.”

The Gators also had two 11-play drives that went for naught — Austin Hardin missed a 44-yard field goal in the first quarter, and the Gators later were taken out of field-goal range by a sack and offensive face-mask penalty.

“We didn’t play very smart and didn’t take care of the football. When those things happen, emotionally that’s a killer,” Muschamp said. “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.”

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