GAINESVILLE — Based on the 175 yards it had gained over the past four games combined, Florida's running game might have seemed like the least of Vanderbilt's worries on Saturday afternoon.
But senior Jeff Demps made sure it was a factor after all.
With senior Chris Rainey sidelined with an injury, Demps rushed for a career-high 158 yards. And the Florida defense did just enough to fend off a late Vanderbilt rally for a 26-21 victory at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The win ended a four-game losing streak for Florida (5-4, 3-4 SEC) and extended its win streak over Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-5) to 21.
The win might have come at a cost, however.
Florida senior quarterback John Brantley, who missed 10 quarters with a high ankle sprain before returning last week, sat out the fourth quarter with a new injury. He had ice on his elbow but declined to say anything specific.
"I just took a shot, but coach (Will) Muschamp is going to give an update on Monday on what's going to happen," Brantley said. "It's a bunch of things. It was getting a shot from one of their players. He hit me with a good shot."
Demps, who has battled an ankle injury over the past month, sealed the victory. Holding a 20-14 lead, he took a handoff to the left side and rushed 52 yards for the touchdown with 2:13 left. (The two-point conversion failed.)
"It was a short-yardage play," Demps said. "We went over it in practice all week. And we got a chance to execute it, and we did. The whole defense was in a box, and once I got the flip, it was just me and the defender left. I just had to make a move and capitalize on it. The offensive line and the receivers did a great job (blocking) today."
Earlier in the drive, Florida lined up to go for it on fourth and 1 from its 15. However, Vanderbilt jumped offside to give UF a first down.
Commodores coach James Franklin said Demps' touchdown, on a third and 1, epitomized what went wrong for his team.
"You have got to stop the run," Franklin said. "That's where Florida's athleticism and recruiting shows up. We load the box up, and they get in a two tight-end, one-receiver set, load the backfield up … that was a good call. They got their fastest player space in a situation where they needed inches, and we loaded the box up."
Florida led 17-0 at halftime aided by touchdown runs of 1 yard by backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett and 5 yards by Demps. But quarterback Jordan Rodgers got the Commodores offense rolling in the second half.
Vanderbilt outscored Florida 21-9 in the half. Rodgers, the younger brother of Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, threw for 220 during the half, including 128 in the fourth, when Vandy had consecutive touchdown drives of 66 and 80 in the final minutes.
Muschamp said Rodgers threw better than he has all season but also acknowledged the Gators played too tentative, particularly in the secondary, late in the game.
"When you've got a two-score game with 2:13 to go, you still play coverage," he said. "We were calling coverages we had had success with the whole game. And our guys felt like just don't get beat deep. And that's not what you can do in these situations. It's a great learning experience. Believe me, Monday morning at 6 a.m., we're going to learn that you can't play that way at the end of the game. You've got to continue to play the game.
"A lot of what I saw is very correctable, in my opinion."
Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]