The scoreboard at “The Swamp,” read Vanderbilt 34 Florida 17. It was the first win for Vandy in Gainesville since 1945 and that tells you a great deal where the University of Florida football program is at this point. It was ugly and Florida has a rough road to even make bowl game with a 4-5 record and FSU looming on their schedule.
Vandy defensive backs Andre Hal, Kenny Ladler and Andrew Williamson picked off the Gators quarterback to set up touchdowns as the Commodores claimed a 34-17 victory.
The result provided a sweep of traditional SEC East powers Florida and Georgia for the first time.
“Before the game, (defensive coordinator Bob) Shoop came to all of us and asked us what do we want to leave for our legacy,” Hal said. “I think this is what we wanted to leave. We wanted to beat Florida. We wanted to beat Georgia. We want to win the rest of the games — just win out.”
Said third-year Vanderbilt coach James Franklin: “All that stuff that happened 80 years ago, we don’t really talk about that. I read these stats because I think that it’s impressive for other people to talk about. But as a program, we’ve been here three years. That’s what we talk about.”
Vanderbilt forced four turnovers without giving the ball away to offset a 26-12 Florida advantage in first downs and 344-183 edge in total yardage.
Seymour (24 carries, 62 yards) rushed for three scores, and redshirt freshman Patton Robinette (6-of-12 passing, 57 yards) managed a run-minded Vanderbilt attack in his second start. Injured senior Austyn Carta-Samuels dressed and warmed up before the game but remained sidelined while wearing a left knee brace.
Vanderbilt produced a couple of long drives, but it didn’t need many yards with the prime field position its defense was providing. Hal returned his interception to the Florida 10, Ladler to the Florida 22 and Williamson to the Florida 4.
The Commodores have been on a takeaway binge the past three games, forcing 12 turnovers against Georgia, Texas A&M and the Gators. The three picks were the most by Vanderbilt’s defense since the 2012 Music City Bowl when it intercepted N.C. State’s Mike Glennon three times.
“We’re playing aggressive, man,” said defensive end Walker May, who forced a fumble from Murphy late in the first half on one of Vanderbilt’s five sacks. “We knew coming into the week we had to get after this guy and force him to make plays.”
Vanderbilt (5-4, 2-4 SEC), which played without second-leading receiver Jonathan Krause because of an injury, is in a position for a strong finish to the season with Kentucky, Tennessee and Wake Forest left on its schedule.
Florida (4-5, 3-4) is in danger of its first losing season since 1979 when it went 0-10-1. The Gators still have South Carolina and Florida State among their three remaining games.
With Vanderbilt up 3-0 in the first quarter, Murphy overshot intended target Quinton Dunbar, and Hal was waiting. One play after Hal’s 20-yard return, Seymour was in the end zone on a 10-yard run.
The Commodores took a 17-0 lead when Robinette ran over the left side of the line for a 4-yard score with 9:22 in the second quarter. His touchdown came four plays after Ladler corralled Murphy’s deep throw into heavy traffic and returned it 28 yards.
“It’s a huge lift, knowing your defense has your back,” Robinette said. “Getting that great field position and being able to go 20 yards and get a touchdown is awesome.”
Florida’s offense had first-and-goal at the Vanderbilt 1 in the second quarter but had to settle for a field goal after Murphy’s option pitch was low and fumbled out of bounds for a loss. May knocked the ball out of Murphy’s hand on the next possession.
Vanderbilt went up 24-3 early in the third quarter when Williamson snagged the carom off Florida receiver Trey Burton’s back shoulder and raced 38 yards to the 4. Seymour scored two plays later.
“We didn’t play very smart and we didn’t take care of the football,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “When those things happen, emotionally, it’s a killer. It’s a killer for your entire organization. Right now, we’re not strong enough mentally to handle it — a year ago, maybe earlier in the year, we were. But right now we’re not.”
The Commodores all but sealed the outcome with a methodical 17-play, 87-yard touchdown drive that consumed 7:22 for a 31-10 lead early in the fourth quarter. Florida cut the margin to 31-17 and drove into Vanderbilt territory late before backpedaling and eventually turning the ball over on downs.
Some quotes in this story were obtained from Associated Press.