Jim McElwain tried to warn everyone all week.
In the buildup to Saturday’s showdown, Florida’s coach repeatedly praised Vanderbilt’s stout defense. He said the Gators would be challenged.
He was right.
The No. 11 Gators barely slipped past the Commodores on Homecoming, escaping with a 9-7 win and plenty of questions moving forward.
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“I told you all, did I not?” McElwain said. “How good these guys are, and I don’t think anybody believed me. They took it to us.”
The Gators clinched the SEC East despite tallying just 258 total yards — the same number of yards they accumulated on the ground last week against Georgia.
They won a game for the first time in 47 years when scoring less than 10 points.
The offensive performance was so putrid the box score needed a NSFW warning.
To wit: UF started six drives in Vandy territory and crossed midfield 11 times in 13 possessions, but scored just the nine points. Quarterback Treon Harris was sacked three times, Florida averaged just 2.7 yards per rush (and a season-low 93 yards total) and converted only 3-of-13 third downs.
The Gators turned the ball over four times — nearly equaling their season-total (6).
It was ugly.
“We’ve got to get better up front and we’ve got to accept the challenge,” McElwain said. “I’m not sure we answered the challenge great. We allowed them to do that.”
With left tackle David Sharpe banged up, Florida’s makeshift offensive line struggled to control the line of scrimmage. The Gators frequently shuffled and rotated linemen, but nothing really worked.
Harris was pressured relentlessly and the former Booker T. Washington standout finished the afternoon just 12 of 24 for 158 yards and an interception — his first of the season.
“We stole this one,” Harris said. “Vandy got the credit today, but my O-line can get better. Everybody has a scholarship. Everybody has to work hard. All week in practice, coach Mac said it’s a four-quarter game. We just had to go out there and play hard.”
A dominant defensive performance by the Gators (yielding just 175 yards) positioned the offense to eventually overcome their woes.
The Gators were consistently gifted excellent field position and they finally broke through in the final minutes of the fourth quarter, gaining just enough yards to set up Austin Hardin’s game-winning 43-yard field goal.
Harris found wideout Demarcus Robinson (nine receptions for 106 yards) twice on the final drive, including a key conversion on second-and-long.
“We just fought through the adversity,” Harris said. “Took every play as a new down. … We showed that we can fight.”
But they also showed they have plenty to work on before their Dec. 5 date in Atlanta.
With three weeks to straighten out an inconsistent attack before the SEC Championship game, South Carolina (No. 91) and Florida Atlantic (No. 88) present prime opportunities for the offense to find its footing.
Either way, though, McElwain just wants more wins.
“Obviously we have a long ways to go on our offense,” he said. “But we can talk and talk and talk about all the mistakes and what ifs and the whys, but at the end of the day there is a group of guys that are in that locker room that gave everything they had for this university and the state of Florida to win that ballgame.”