Sunday, May 20, 2018
Colleges

Florida Gators' special teams help compensate for sluggish game by offense

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — On a night when Florida got few contributions from its skill position players on offense, its special teams helped pick up the slack.

After quarterback Jeff Driskel's 177-yard, three-touchdown rushing performance, UF's biggest weapon was its various special teams packages in its 31-17 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday.

Following Driskel's 37-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that cut the Commodores' lead to 7-6, Florida lined up with running back Trey Burton, a center and another lineman in the middle of the field and the rest of the unit split out to either side. Rather than shift into a kicking formation, Burton took the snap and ran it in for the 2-point conversion, putting the Gators up for good, 8-7.

"It's something we've been working on for a while," coach Will Muschamp said of the conversion play. "Had it early in the year and the numbers never really presented themselves. We felt good about it and Trey executed it very well."

With Florida leading 11-7, Vanderbilt seemed poised to pull within a point as it lined up for a 44-yard field goal after a 14-play drive to begin the second half. However, defensive end Earl Okine broke through the line and blocked the kick. Cornerback Louchiez Purifoy picked it up and ran it to the Florida 40 before pitching it back to linebacker Jon Bostic, who was taken down at the UF 38. It was the Gators' first blocked punt or kick in 2012.

"As soon as he snapped the ball, I got off the ball and pushed him back and jumped," Okine said.

On the ensuing possession, Florida looked to have squandered the opportunity after gaining 5 yards on three plays. But on the punt, long snapper Christopher Guido hiked the ball to Burton rather than punter Kyle Christy. Burton handed it off to wide receiver Solomon Patton, who took it up the left sideline for 53 yards to the Vanderbilt 3.

"When I got it and I looked upfield, I saw so much grass and I just got really excited," Patton said. "And I just took off."

After Florida was backed up to the 13 on a holding call on the next play, Driskel ran it in for a touchdown to give the Gators an 18-7 lead.

After Vanderbilt cut it to 21-14 with 8:57 left in the game, Andre Debose returned the kickoff 60 yards to the Commodores 37. The Gators tacked a field goal onto their lead.

"Huge," Muschamp said of the return. "Flipped the field. They had the momentum at home and all that kind of good stuff. We blocked it extremely well. … I thought it was executed extremely well by our players."

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