GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Don’t look now, but the Florida Gators are 3-0 in SEC play and are riding yet another wave of emotions following a 38-24 win over the Vanderbilt Commodores on Saturday.
The Gators saw their run game take off and the defense go through its lumps.
But most noteworthy, they saw their quarterback carousel back in action after Luke Del Rio suffered a season-ending collarbone injury in the second quarter. This elevated Feleipe Franks back into the starting role.
RELATED: QB Feleipe Franks must build on confidence booster vs. Vandy | Luke Del Rio dealt another bad break | What Jim McElwain said after the win | A visual recap of Florida’s win over Vanderbilt | Florida RBs finding their groove | Injury update
Here is a closer look at some of the key takeaways from Saturday as well as questions heading into next week and the rest of the season.
How does Feleipe Franks respond?
Franks held his own on Saturday after subbing in for the injured Del Rio. The redshirt freshman completed 10 of 14 passes for 185 yards in a little more than a half against the SEC’s top-ranked pass defense heading into the week.
His arm strength and downfield accuracy was on display once again when he fired a 49-yard dart to Tyrie Cleveland on just his third play of the game (photo, left). This pushed Florida into the red zone and allowed the Gators to kick a 22-yard field goal to tie the game at 17 heading into halftime.
Franks also showcased better decision making throughout the game. Of his four incompletions, two game in that first drive at the end of the second quarter following the Cleveland completion. He also got help from his receivers at times, highlighted by Freddie Swain catching a tipped pass for 33 yards to set up one of the Gators’ 5 rushing touchdowns.
Now the focus shifts to Franks’ response next week against LSU. If he — and the rest of the offense — shows up and gives a repeat performance from the Vanderbilt game, he should be in good shape. If he struggles early, it might be a long homecoming game for the Gators.
Can the run game keep going?
Freshman Malik Davis continues to impress. Lamical Perine showed his grit. Mark Thompson is carving out his role in the gameplan, too.
Put simply: Florida’s run game seems to have finally figured it out. On Saturday, it was to the tune of a season-high 218 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Through three conference games, Florida is averaging 190.7 rushing yards per game and 4.9 yards per rush. Both marks rank seventh in the conference. The Gators’ 7 rushing touchdowns in SEC play rank third only to Alabama (11) and Auburn (9).
And it’s a freshman who is leading the way. Davis, a three-star recruit who entered fall camp at No. 4 on the depth chart, leads the Gators with 319 rushing yards. He ranks fourth among freshmen nationally in yards per game (79.75) and his 7.42 yards per rush ranks 28th nationally and third in the SEC among running backs.
He’s not doing it alone, though. Perine (photo, left) had Florida’s first 3 rushing touchdown performance since 2012 and has found ways to get yards after contact. Thompson has morphed into the Gators’ third-down back and led the team with 5 receptions against Vanderbilt on Saturday.
Overall, the running back by committee approach has begun to mold into a formidable attack. The next three games, however, will prove just how effective Florida can be as the Gators face three of the SEC’s top run-stopping defenses in LSU (6th in conference, 126 yards allowed/game), Texas A&M (4th, 95,8 yards) and Georgia (3rd, 90.40 yards).
Can the D-line carry the defense?
Once again, the Gators’ defensive line — the most veteran position group on that side of the ball — stepped up when this weekend.
In total, the Gators recorded 5 tackles for loss and 12 quarterback hurries while limiting Ralph Webb to just 29 rushing yards on 11 carries. For the season, the Gators are averaging 7 tackles per loss per game, tied for third in the SEC.
And while redshirt senior Jordan Sherit (photo, above) certainly paved the way with his 5 quarterback hurries and 1 of the tackles for loss on Saturday, he certainly was not alone in Florida’s revolving door of defensive ends.
Sophomore Jachai Polite had 3 quarterback hurries and a sack. Junior CeCe Jefferson had 2 QB hurries, a pass breakup and a tackle for loss while playing both end and defensive tackle.
On the interior, Taven Bryan had a tackle for loss and applied consistent pressure, but the big surprise might have been freshman T.J. Slaton.
At 6-foot-4 and 358 pounds, Slaton provides a clear mismatch in the trenches and is a force to be reckoned with if he does make it into the backfield. Slaton had 2 tackles in the game — including one where he engulfed Webb behind the line of scrimmage — while spelling Khairi Clark, who was limited with a calf injury.
All told, the Gators’ defensive line has shown steady improvement throughout the season, especially in stopping the run.
That consistency will continued to be relied upon by a young defense.
The post Snap judgments: A look at the key moments from Florida-Vanderbilt appeared first on SEC Country.
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