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Jeff Driskel lifts No. 4 Florida Gators past Vanderbilt Commodores 31-17

NASHVILLE — Say hello to another Florida sophomore quarterback who just won the hearts of Florida fans and grabbed the attention of the rest of the nation.

Jeff Driskel has tried his best to deflect those Tim Tebow comparisons that are more and more starting to come his way.

And for good reason.

Tebow won the Heisman Trophy (as a sophomore) and helped Florida to two national titles. Two months ago, Driskel was fighting to earn the starting job, and he didn't even start the season opener at QB.

But Saturday night, in his fifth career start, Driskel served notice he's here to make his own mark.

The 19-year-old rushed for 177 yards, a school record for a quarterback, and touchdowns of 37, 13 and 70 yards as No. 4 Florida beat Vanderbilt 31-17 in front of 40,350 at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday night.

"It's an honor," Driskel said of the record. "They were keying in on (Gator leading rusher) Mike Gillislee) all night, which they should. He's had a great season. When two or three guys go for him, it opens up lanes. We had great blocking from receivers and also from fullbacks and tight ends. So it was a full team effort."

Driskel needed 11 carries to break the record of 166 set by — who else? — Tebow on Sept. 22, 2007. That day, Tebow ran it 27 times.

It was the fourth time this season Florida won after trailing, and it remained in the hunt for its first SEC championship since 2008. It also is Florida's first 6-0 start since 2009.

The Gators (5-0 SEC) host South Carolina on Saturday in a pivotal SEC East game. And when the first BCS standings are released tonight, they could be as high as No. 2 based on computer rankings that already have been released.

"It was a good win," Florida coach Will Muschamp said. "I'm proud of our guys to come back. Credit to (Vanderbilt coach) James Franklin and his staff and team. They are a much-improved organization as far as their play."

"Going on the road in this league, it's tough. Jeff had an outstanding game running the football. His legs create a lot of things for our offense."

The win was anything but easy. It took Driskel's performance and several special teams plays, including a blocked field goal by defensive end Earl Okine, 53-yard run by receiver Solomon Patton on a fake punt and 60-yard kickoff return by Andre Debose. All three led to scores.

After trailing 7-0 in the first quarter, Florida outscored Vanderbilt 11-0 in the second quarter and took a 21-7 lead into the fourth.

The Gators added three more on a 29-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal with 13:30 left. The drive was set up when linebacker Jon Bostic forced a fumble by quarterback Jordan Rodgers, which was recovered by linebacker Neiron Ball.

Vanderbilt (2-4, 1-3) pulled to within 21-14 on a 1-yard run by Zac Stacy. However, Florida extended the lead to 24-14 on another Sturgis field goal with 5:24 remaining then closed out the game with a 70-yard touchdown run by the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Driskel with 2:20 left.

"He's explosive, athletic and fast," Franklin said. "Jeff is a big, athletic guy who is fast. And if you give him an opportunity to make big plays, he will."

The Gators rushed for 326 yards and had 403 overall, even more impressive because Florida was without three starting offensive lineman due to injuries.

Florida held Vanderbilt to 126 rushing yards and 237 overall but gave up several big plays through the air and struggled to get off the field on third down — all concerns, Muschamp said.

"I'm pleased with the win," he said, "but cautiously optimistic about how we played.

Antonya English can be reached at english@tampabay.com. Follow her on Twitter at TBTimes_Gators.

Jeff Driskel lifts No. 4 Florida Gators past Vanderbilt Commodores 31-17 10/13/12 [Last modified: Saturday, October 13, 2012 11:32pm]
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