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Florida visits as Vanderbilt sets sights on SEC win streak

Sportsnaut
Nov 12, 2022; Lexington, Kentucky, USA; Vanderbilt Commodores running back Ray Davis (2) hugs head coach Clark Lea after the game against the Kentucky Wildcats at Kroger Field. Mandatory Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Jordan Prather-USA TODAY Sports

Vanderbilt snapped a 26-game Southeastern Conference losing streak with a 24-21 win at Kentucky last week.

The Commodores now hope to start a winning streak when Florida visits Nashville on Saturday.

For Vanderbilt (4-6, 1-5), quarterback Mike Wright’s 8-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Will Sheppard with 32 seconds left provided the go-ahead points in the takedown of Kentucky.

Linebacker/safety CJ Taylor intercepted Will Levis on the ensuing possession, giving the Commodores their first league win since Oct. 19, 2019.

It also was the first SEC win for second-year coach Clark Lea, who spent last week battling the flu.

Lea, who played fullback at Vanderbilt from 2002-04, was overcome with emotion after his 18-point underdogs upset the then-24th-ranked Wildcats.

“They just kept fighting, and when you stay in the fight and you believe, good things happen,” Lea said. “They were able to make it happen at the end.”

The Gators (6-4, 3-4) also are coming off perhaps their best performance of the season in a 38-6 shellacking of South Carolina, during which they outgained the Gamecocks 515-237 and outrushed them 374-44.

Running backs Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne rushed for 161 and 100 yards, respectively, while quarterback Anthony Richardson added 96 while throwing for 112 and two scores.

“Saturday against South Carolina is the first time I’ve really felt like, ‘OK, hey, this is the type of team we want to have,'” Florida coach Billy Napier said. “(It) felt more like what we intended to be from the very beginning. Just the energy, the sideline, the team throughout the week. I thought, by far, the best week of practice that we’ve had.”

Discipline has been a key component of the rebuild each coach is attempting. The Gators led the SEC in fewest penalty yards per game (39.8) and turnover margin (plus-10), while the Commodores rank fourth in penalties (45.8) and tied for sixth in turnover margin (a net of zero).

Vandy, a home underdog, will have to contain one of the league’s best rushing attacks. The Gators average 6.5 yards per carry with sacks subtracted, while Vanderbilt allows 5.2 by the same measure.

The Commodores have recovered 10 fumbles, but the Gators have only coughed up the ball four times. Vanderbilt linebacker Anfernee Orji leads or is tied for the SEC lead in tackles (95), forced fumbles (three) and fumble recoveries (two).

The Commodores probably will try a similar strategy; they average 4.9 yards on rushing plays, which is what Florida allows. Both Wright (126 rushing yards) and running back Ray Davis (129) ran well against Kentucky, marking the second and fourth times, respectively, each has gone over 100 yards this season.

Those two will be a challenge for Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller, whose 62 stops rank 11th in the league and second on the team behind defensive back Rashad Torrence II (73).

The Gators have won the last eight in the annual series, including 42-0 last year in Gainesville.

–Field Level Media