The weather was ugly, and the two offenses were even uglier heading into Saturday's matchup against between Vanderbilt and Florida in The Swamp. The Commodores were fresh off a 59-0 shellacking at the hands of Alabama, while the Gators -- despite being 2-0 in the SEC -- were forced to start quarterback Luke Del Rio after Feleipe Franks was benched in last week's win over Kentucky.
But a funny thing happened Saturday: Florida found something offensively. The running game was on point against the 'Dores in the 38-24 win, and it took over in the second half to pull away from a Vanderbilt team that had matched the Gators score-for-score until midway through the third quarter.
Freshman running back Malik Davis toted the rock 17 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns. Lamical Perine added 58 yards on 15 carries for three of his four career touchdowns. It's the first time since 2003 (vs. Florida A&M) that the Gators have racked up five rushing touchdowns in one game.
It's something to build on -- which, regardless of who plays quarterback, is more than could be said for this Florida offense heading into Saturday's action. Franks replaced Del Rio and played well, completing 10-of-14 passes for 185 yards, though he did have two passes nearly intercepted, including one improbably caught by sophomore wideout Freddie Swain.and was ruled out for the season after the game, according to coach Jim McElwain.
Think back to the Tennessee game, which was won on the Franks to Tyrie Cleveland bomb as time expired. That wouldn't have been needed if Davis had held on to the ball for an extra yard on a 74-yard run and not had the ball punched out for a touchback instead of a touchdown. It would have given the Gators a 17-point lead with under 11 minutes to play against a Tennessee team with no offensive identity.
Davis closed that door -- a front door, if you're into the gambling line that sat at Gators (-9) at kickoff -- with a 39-yard touchdown with under two minutes to play to score the game's final points. The Vanderbilt game backed up this identity. Florida is a running team, and it can do it effectively enough despite not having much of a threat in the passing game.
McElwain said after the season-opening loss to Michigan that the offensive line wasn't what he expected. That's still true in pass protection. But in running situations, they're on point -- especially former top-tier prospect Martez Ivey at left tackle.
What's more, Florida made some minor strides defensively. The Gators came in giving up 5.9 yards per play -- next-to-last in the SEC ahead of only Missouri (6.03). But they gave up 5.17 on Saturday afternoon and held star Commodore running back Ralph Webb to just 29 rushing yards on 11 attempts. The Vanderbilt rushing attack only managed 46 yards overall, though QB Kyle Shurmur passed for 264 yards and three touchdowns despite completing just 18-of-40 passes.
No matter how ugly it has looked at times for Florida, it still sits atop the SEC East standings at 3-0 in conference play.