Friday, February 23, 2018
Sports

Gators can't afford to overlook Vanderbilt

GAINESVILLE — Florida will host Vanderbilt at noon on Saturday in a football game with huge implications for the remainder of the Gators' season.

No, really.

With a road game at No. 13 South Carolina and the season finale against No. 3 Florida State still looming on the schedule, the unranked Gators desperately need a win against Vanderbilt to keep their bowl hopes alive. The Gators (4-4, 3-3 SEC) need six wins to become bowl eligible.

Florida has defeated Vanderbilt 22 consecutive seasons and last lost to the Commodores in Gainesville in 1945.

And yet with Florida on a three-game losing streak, still struggling and inconsistent in every facet, not one bit of that matters right now.

"I wouldn't say that would boost our confidence, playing a team that we've beat 22 years in a row, just because we're not the same team as those other 22 teams," Florida QB Tyler Murphy said. "They (Vanderbilt) beat Georgia. We didn't beat Georgia, and they're off a bye week so they have an extra week to prepare for us and get healthy. So we're going to have our work cut out for us.

"It will be an exciting game to be back in the Swamp. It will be a challenge, but it will be fun."

Florida will play at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium for the first time since Oct. 5. The schedule this season had five of its final seven SEC games away from Florida Field.

"Seems like it's been forever," coach Will Muschamp said.

While Murphy and S Jaylen Watkins said Monday they are aware of how important wins are for their bowl status, Muschamp said he won't try to use that as motivation for his team. It's not necessary, he said.

"Motivation is what you saw in the second half (scoring 17 unanswered points vs. Georgia), those guys playing for each other," Muschamp said. "We've got a close-knit football team, a team that's got character and you wouldn't have seen that in the second half if that wasn't the case. So our guys will play, they'll play hard."

GOLDEN OPPORTUNITY: Vanderbilt enters Saturday's game coming off a bye week, which has given the Commodores ample opportunity to rest and prepare. Vanderbilt coach James Franklin said the majority of veteran players spent last week just participating in walk-through and tempo periods, then helped teach and coach scrimmages with younger players.

"We were able to give our veterans a lot of down time," Franklin said. "Guys that have played a lot of reps, I think we held 26 players out from practice.

"We took a different approach in bye week No. 2 compared to bye week No. 1. … We were able to get a little bit of a head start on Florida last week watching film, our coordinators and coaches as well. That was good and that's an advantage for us."

PERSONNEL CHANGES: Muschamp confirmed on Monday that director of player personnel Jon Haskins has resigned. He said there is no timetable for hiring his replacement. "I'm busy coaching the team and don't have a whole lot of time," Muschamp said.

HISTORY-MAKING: Florida soccer player Savannah Jordan on Monday was named SEC offensive player of the year, the first freshman in SEC history to earn that honor. Teammates Havana Solaum and Christen Westphal were also All-SEC first team selections. Last year Florida senior Erika Tymrak was named SEC offensive player of the year. Jordan leads the team in goals (20) and points (41). Her goal total is tied for second nationally.

Antonya English can be reached at [email protected]

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