A fake punt made the difference in a close contest that many expected to be a blowout.
UF punter Tommy Townsend took the field on fourth-and-three in the third quarter. And instead of sending the ball sailing across the field, he rushed forward for an 18-yard pickup.
The play changed the momentum of the game and led to a fourth-quarter surge that allowed No. 14 Florida to hold off Vanderbilt 37-27 in Nashville, Tennessee, on Saturday.
“Great team win, I think this team’s learning a lot of different ways to win games,” coach Dan Mullen said after the game. “And today’s game, we don’t come in, we don’t really follow our plan to win. We’ve won some games following the plan to win exactly. We’ve won games making big, explosive plays … You know, finally started to execute on both sides of the ball and the kicking game and make plays and get a win.”
It was a slow start for the Gators (6-1, 4-1 SEC), coupled with a first half filled with penalties and mishaps.
A red-zone interception of quarterback Feleipe Franks on the Gators’ first drive of the game was exactly what the Commodores (3-4, 0-3 SEC) needed to establish the momentum quickly.
The redshirt sophomore had his pass tipped at the line and intercepted by Vanderbilt cornerback Joejuan Williams.
And the Commodores capitalized with a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Kyle Shurmur to tight end Jared Pinkney.
It was one of two Franks turnovers that the Commodores turned into first half scores to take a 21-13 into the third quarter. He lost a fumble in the second quarter, and it was recovered by the Commodores at the UF 31-yard line.
Before the teams trotted to the locker room, however, James Houston was ejected on a targeting call and linebacker Vosean Joseph was ejected after picking up his second unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty of the afternoon.
Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason got into a shouting match with members of the Florida bench, including Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and Mullen, and it ended in both teams clearing their respective benches and running onto the field toward each other.
“It’s kind of one of those things that you’re stuck in the middle,” Franks said. “You don’t want to get thrown out the game, but nobody’s going to come over there and just do anything to your teammates. Those are your brothers.”
But it seemed to be the jolt that he and the Gators needed for the second half.
Franks completed his first touchdown pass of the game just moments after Townsend’s third-quarter punt fake, which brought the Gators within one.
They’d take the lead at the beginning of the fourth quarter after a 48-yard touchdown run by Jordan Scarlett on the Gators’ opening drive.
Scarlett ended the game with 125 all-purpose yards to complement Lamical Perine’s 214 total yards from scrimmage, making them the first Florida runners to eclipse 100 yards this season.
“I was telling [the running backs] all throughout the game and I told them in the locker room that they set up every opportunity for me to even throw the ball,” Franks said. “The way they run downhill and power and all that kind of stuff.”
It was Florida’s ground attack (292 net yards rushing) coupled with Franks’ career-high 284 yards that eventually wore down the Vanderbilt defense and allowed the Gators success down the stretch.
“I think the team learned from our one loss this year,” Mullen said. “We get frustrated, just, we’ll get you coached up. Don’t try to cowboy and do your own thing. We’re going to make some adjustments, we’re going to scheme some things up, if we need to ... And we did enough of that in the second half to win.”