David Reese doesn’t believe in trap games.
But the Florida inside linebacker knows they do exist.
That’s why No. 14 Florida won’t look past its 3-3 opponent Vanderbilt on Saturday, despite riding a four-game win streak and a two-game win streak over ranked teams. The Gators will enter Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville, Tennessee, at noon treating it as their newest opportunity to improve.
“You have to get better, and it happens in practice,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said. “So we need to a much better week of practice this week than we had last week if we expect to win. A little bit more physical. Playing obviously a tough team in Vanderbilt with a very veteran quarterback, the league’s leading wide receiver.”
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Vanderbilt has the experience up front having returned all five of its starting offensive linemen from a year ago, which should help against the potent Florida pass rush.
The Commodores have athleticism in tackle Devin Cochran, and they have a guy in guard Bruno Reagan who can rotate multiple spots on the line.
While Florida also has experience in its offensive front, offensive line coach John Hevesy says Florida’s linemen have to get better at knocking guys off the ball and opening the middle for the running backs.
“We have to be able to run the ball downhill more than we do,” Hevesy said. “We got to be able to move people off the ball and knock people back more than we did. LSU is good up front, big up front, but to me our pads have to be low and we have to be able to knock people off the ball to run inside zone better than we do.”
They also have a weapon in receiver Kalija Lipscomb, who was become a go-to target for quarterback Kyle Shurmur.
The 6-foot, 185-pound junior had a career-high 174 receiving yards and two touchdowns against Tennessee State on Sept. 29, and he has hauled in at least nine catches in four of the Commodores’ last five games.
And Shurmur proved against Notre Dame that he can make the big throws and remain poised when his team falls behind.
The Gators are only giving up 148.5 yards through the air per game, though, and their defense has shown in its last two contests its ability to shut down productive offenses and their veteran quarterbacks.
“I’ve played against [Shurmur] before,” Reese said. “Just knowing that he has a lot of experience, and that O-line also does too. But I feel like it’s nothing we can’t handle. I feel like this game is more about us and the energy we bring to their stadium.”
The Commodores will also need to take care of the ball to avoid unwinding against a Florida team that has recovered 11 fumbles on the year. Vanderbilt has lost the ball five times this season.
Energy will also be a deciding factor as Florida will not face the hostile atmosphere that it has seen in its recent road trips. But the Gators have focused on bringing that energy in their week of preparation, and they know Vanderbilt has done the same.
“[The Commodores] are going to give good effort,” offensive lineman Nick Buchanan said. “And they seem, people say they’re inferior, I feel as though they’re not. It’s an SEC game at the end of the day. When you play in the SEC, it’s a bloodbath every time. You can’t sleep on anyone.”