Florida Football: 5 Keys to the Game vs. Vanderbilt
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Coming off a monumental win against then-No. 4 LSU, the new No. 4 Florida Gators must continue to play aggressive, disciplined defense and pound the ball on offense in this week's matchup against Vanderbilt.
Last season, the Commodores made things interesting at the Swamp, nearly handing the Gators their fifth straight loss. However, thanks to Jeff Demps' 158 rushing yards and two scores, UF squeaked out a 26-21 victory at home.
While Vanderbilt returns several star playmakers on offense, the Gators should have no problem making the Commodores their sixth straight victim.
Let's take a look at the five keys to victory for the Gators this Saturday.
Stay Disciplined on Defense
Senior Lerentee McCray is off to a terrific start.
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After facing Zach Mettenberger (a statue in the pocket) last weekend, Florida's defense will get a whole new look against Vanderbilt's mobile quarterback Jordan Rodgers.
Like his brother Aaron of the Green Bay Packers, the younger Rodgers has also taken a step back from last season, but still presents a tough matchup because of his ability to move in and out of the pocket.
Despite his lackluster stats, Rodgers has history on his side. Last season, the 6'1", 212-pounder threw for 297 yards and accounted for three touchdowns in the narrow loss to UF.
In order to keep Rodgers in check, defensive ends Lerentee McCray, Dominique Easley, Dante Fowler Jr. and Jonathan Bullard will have to set the edge and keep containment.
Maintaining gap discipline has been an area of strength thus far, and it will be needed more than ever against Vandy.
Generate a Pass Rush
Dominique Easley is one crazy character on Florida's talented defense.
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The best defensive linemen are wired differently than normal humans, and Gators defensive end Dominique Easley definitely fits that bill.
The 6'2", 280-pound maniac is a terror off the edge who brings a level of tenacity matched only by safety Matt Elam.
After tearing his ACL at the end of last season, Easley battled through the rehab process while also shifting from defensive tackle to end.
So far, the true junior only has eight tackles and one sack through four games, but his ferocity and energy despite playing at less than 100 percent health is infectious.
In order to slow down Vanderbilt's adept passing attack, Easley and fellow edge defender Lerentee McCray need to live in the Commodores' backfield.
If they put consistent pressure on Rodgers, chalk up a win for the Gators.
Shut Down Jordan Matthews and Chris Boyd
Jordan Matthews quietly ranks as one of the SEC's best receivers.
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Jordan Matthews isn't a household name, but you can bet cornerbacks Jaylen Watkins and Marcus Roberson are very familiar with the 6'3", 205-pound wideout.
After catching 41 passes for 778 yards and five scores in 2011, the junior receiver has been phenomenal in 2012, ranking No. 2 in the SEC in both receptions (35) and receiving yards (486).
During a three-game conference stretch last season, Matthews exploded for 452 yards on 21 receptions, including a nine-catch, 170-yard performance against the Gators.
Watkins—who's emerged as a very good cover corner in Dan Quinn's defense—should see plenty of Matthews on Saturday.
Matthews, however, isn't even the best vertical threat on his team, as 6'4" sophomore Chris Boyd leads the SEC with a 20.4 yards-per-catch average.
Will Muschamp has recruited bigger corners in recent years, so guys like Watkins, Roberson and Loucheiz Purifoy will have to be physical at the line of scrimmage and play tight coverage in order to shut down Vandy's pair of star receivers.
Test Them Deep
Jeff Driskel has made timely plays, but has more big-play potential.
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It's pretty remarkable Florida managed to edge out LSU despite completing just eight passes.
Although Vanderbilt presents an appetizing matchup for the run game, offensive coordinator Brent Pease needs to dial up the deep passing game Saturday.
With the Commodores picking off just two passes and surrendering 12.1 yards per completion, Jeff Driskel should have the green light to attack them with his arm.
With athletic tight end Jordan Reed and a solid duo of Frankie Hammond Jr. and Quinton Dunbar out wide, Florida has the weapons to make Vandy respect the pass.
If Florida is able to hit a couple deep balls, or give Reed the chance to rack up yards after the catch, Vandy won't be able to stack the box against Mike Gillislee.
Pound the Ball on Offense
Mike Gillislee has put himself in Heisman consideration.
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The saying goes, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."
Unfortunately for the Commodores, their run defense has more holes than Swiss cheese, and Mike Gillislee is hungry to make himself some more money come draft day.
After playing third fiddle to Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps the past two seasons, Gillislee has exploded for 548 yards and seven touchdowns in his senior season.
The normally reserved tailback set lofty goals of 1,500 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns before the season, and with him nearly a third of the way there, Saturday could be a huge step in making those dreams a reality.
Vanderbilt has been a sieve against the run, surrendering 219 yards per game in three conference games, including a whopping 302 yards and five touchdowns in a 48-3 beatdown by Georgia.
Expect Florida to hand the ball to Gillislee early and often as the senior charges his way up the Heisman ballot and moves the Gators to 6-0.