GAINESVILLE — What has been a difficult season for Florida moved deeper into despair Saturday afternoon.
Already having lost three in a row, the Gators threw away a chance to get closer to six wins — and a bowl game.
Vanderbilt turned three interceptions into 21 points in a 34-17 win over the Gators on homecoming at Ben Hill Griffin.
It was the Commodores' first win over the Gators (4-5, 3-4 SEC) since 1988 (a span of 22 games) and first in Gainesville since 1945 (a span of 20). It also was just the second time since 1988 that Vanderbilt scored 34 or more points against Florida. (In 2005, it scored 42 in a double-overtime loss.)
"You can play with more of an edge than I believe we did," said third-year Florida coach Will Muschamp, who was showered with boos as his record fell to 22-13 overall and 13-10 in the SEC. "Not saying we didn't play hard. I think we did play hard. We competed and fought to the end. But at the end of the day, you cannot give them those opportunities. It's just a complete emotional letdown."
For the third consecutive game, UF won the toss and deferred — and its opponent scored. The Commodores (5-4, 2-4) opened with a 14-play, 62-yard drive that ate 7:04 off of the clock. The Gators now have been outscored 72-29 in the first quarter this season.
Vanderbilt's next three touchdowns resulted from Tyler Murphy interceptions that gave the Commodores possession at the UF 10, 22 and 4. The led to Vandy scoring on a 10-yard run by Jerron Seymour with three seconds remaining in the first quarter, a 5-yard run by quarterback Patton Robinette 5:38 into the second quarter, and a 2-yard run by Seymour 2:13 into the third quarter.
"You're not going to win many games turning it over four times and spotting the ball on the 10, 22 and 4," said Muschamp, who also lost four consecutive games in his first season. "We're not good enough to overcome critical mistakes like that."
Murphy also lost a fumble while sacked and went 30-of-46 for 305 yards and a touchdown.
"I'm still confident in myself," Murphy said. "But any time you play like that, it doesn't help your team. Individually, I felt I let my team down a little bit."
Based on statistics alone, the Gators dominated. Florida had 305 passing yards to Vanderbilt's 57 and 344 total yards to Vanderbilt's 183 (though Vandy outrushed UF 126-39).
"If you look at it statistically, it doesn't make a whole lot of sense," Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said. "But because of the turnovers … ."
Florida must now regroup to play at No. 13 South Carolina on Saturday.
The Gators need two wins among their final three to become bowl-eligible. (Their last nonbowl season was 1990, and the last time they didn't play in one while not on probation was 1979.)
One win likely will come at home Nov. 23 against I-AA Georgia Southern. But they end the season at home against No. 3 (and undefeated) Florida State.
"We all understand (what's at stake)," defensive end Jonathan Bullard said. "We're going to do whatever it takes, and hopefully, the offense does the same. Nobody likes to lose. We're fighting to win every game that we've got left."
Almost nine years ago today (Nov. 6 to be exact) Florida beat Vanderbilt 34-17 in Ron Zook's 35th game as Gators coach. Current Florida coach Will Muschamp now also has coached 35 games. Zook was fired after No. 33 but stayed to finish the season:
Overall 22-13 21-14
SEC 13-10 15-8
Avg. pts. 24.6 29.4