NASHVILLE — Two weeks ago, Florida was in a three-game losing streak and off for the weekend, its players sitting around getting their feelings hurt as they watched national shows not mention them. The Gators were unranked and pretty much written off.
What a difference 14 days can make.
Florida carried the momentum from last week's overtime victory over Georgia into Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday afternoon and came away with a 55-14 victory in front of 33,848 — its 20th consecutive win against Vanderbilt.
Now the showdown is officially set.
Florida (6-3, 4-3 SEC) plays South Carolina at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday night with the East Division title on the line, the winner playing for the SEC championship on Dec. 4 in Atlanta.
"It's the biggest game of the year," senior center Mike Pouncey said. "If we win, we're in. If we lose, we're out. So we're all focused on this one game. We're going to approach it as the biggest game of the year. We're turning it into a one-game season. And if we win, it'll be the best feeling ever."
To earn its fourth division title over the past five years, Florida will have to defeat former Gator coach Steve Spurrier, who derailed UF's title hopes in Columbia in 2005.
"We're done (celebrating the Vanderbilt win)," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "The coaches are already working as we speak on South Carolina. … This is the whole deal. I'm very excited the way our guys came out and played the last two games with energy. It's not how you start, it's how you finish, and I think we're finishing strong. It's championship week in Gainesville, Florida."
The victory against Vanderbilt (2-7, 1-5) gave Florida exactly what it needed: a chance to work on its revamped offense with plans to add wrinkles this week.
The Gators used three quarterbacks: starter John Brantley, freshman Trey Burton and redshirt freshman Jordan Reed.
Reed played almost the entire second half, finishing 11-of-19 for 120 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 84 yards on 16 carries and a touchdown. Brantley was 11-of-18 for 157 yards and two touchdowns, and Burton had 30 yards on six carries.
That is what South Carolina will have to prepare for. Meyer said Reed will continue as a tight end and single wing quarterback, and share snaps with Brantley and Burton.
"Everything keeps going," he said.
Florida's new up-tempo offense lost some of its effectiveness early in Saturday's chilly game — 44 degrees at kickoff — proving it's still a work in progress. When the first quarter ended, UF had just 52 yards and a 7-0 lead over a young, undermanned Vandy team that has used 18 new starters this season.
By halftime, the Gators led 41-0 — the most points they have scored in a half this season. Florida scored 21 in a span of 3:36. And three of the Gators' six first-half touchdowns came as a result of two blocked punts by junior Chris Rainey and a fumble recovery by senior defensive tackle Terron Sanders.
The Gators piled up 480 yards of offense and held Vandy to 109 yards — 92 through three quarters, prompting defensive coordinator Teryl Austin to call it UF's best performance of the season.
By the time, the clock rolled to 0:00, the Gators had already started talking about South Carolina on the sideline, something Meyer said he endorsed wholeheartedly.
"When the clock hit zero, it's preparation for South Carolina," said receiver Frankie Hammond, who had three catches for 49 yards and a touchdown. "We'll take the win, go back and look at our mistakes and things that we can learn from, and get prepared for South Carolina this week."
After all, everything is on the line.
"We know what's ahead of us, and we've got to start now," Brantley said.
"I sit next to (quarterbacks coach Scot Loeffler) on the plane. We're definitely going to start having conversations. … Spurrier knows how to coach those big games like you saw (in a win) against Alabama. We've got to come in there. We've got to be ready."
Antonya English can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her coverage at gators.tampabay.com.