5 major takeaways from Florida’s devastating loss to Vanderbilt

Florida couldn’t string together a third-straight win on Saturday as the Gators fell to the Vanderbilt Commodores, 31-24.

It’s UF’s first loss to the ‘Dores since 2013 and the first time Florida has fallen to Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in the same season since 1955. To make the loss even more painful, Florida was fully capable of winning this game, even with its sloppy play, but floundered nearly every comeback opportunity along the way.

Anthony Richardson threw for 400 yards and three touchdowns, but the running game wasn’t nearly as strong as it usually is. Both of Florida’s top running backs struggled to put up decent yardage, and penalties erased what big gains they did put together.

After two solid weeks of football against Texas A&M and South Carolina, the Gators reverted back to some of their bad habits and played themselves out of the game. Panic seemed to be the norm in crucial situations, and head coach Billy Napier quickly admitted that Florida beat itself in this one once the game concluded.

That’s not to take too much away from Clark Lea and Vanderbilt, but rather to point out the massive steps back taken by Florida.

And it’s not going to get any easier next week.

Florida now has to beat Florida State on the road to avoid a .500 season, and the Seminoles are playing some of their best football of the year as of late. Defensive leader and starting linebacker Ventrell Miller won’t be available for the first half of the game either after being disqualified from this contest in the second half.

Things aren’t great in Gatorland right now, but there’s still one more game to be played before wrapping up the first year of the Napier era. Beating FSU is everything, but the team will need to learn a lot from this game before burning the tape and moving on to the next one.

Here are five major takeaways from Florida’s loss to Vanderbilt.

The penalty monster returns

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Florida has generally been a well-disciplined team this year, but the Gators shot themselves in the feet a few times on Saturday. Three of Florida’s seven penalties came on third down, stalling the offense in crucial moments that would have helped Florida complete the comeback down the road.

Two unnecessary roughness calls and a pair of illegal substitutions were entirely avoidable. Florida’s not a good enough team to dig itself out of such a big hole, even against Vanderbilt, and giving up 80 free yards is just part of what put this game out of reach.

“A lot of Florida beating Florida,” was the quote from Billy Napier after the game, and it’s hard to argue with that assessment after looking at the numbers.

A bad day on the ground

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Florida’s typically mighty rushing attack was anything but that against Vanderbilt. An early botched snap put the net rushing yardage in the negative, and the Commodores held Florida to just 45 net yards on the day. True freshman [autotag]Trevor Etienne[/autotag] was limited to 9 yards on four carries, which is good for his worst performance of the season, and starter [autotag]Montrell Johnson Jr[/autotag]. also struggled to find any holes, finishing the afternoon with just 32 yards on 11 carries.

To put those numbers in perspective, both Etienne and Johnson entered the day averaging over 6.0 yards per carry, and Florida hadn’t rushed for less than 100 yards as a team all year, and that was against No. 1 Georgia.

Some credit has to go to Lea and Vandy for putting together a scheme that limited Florida’s biggest strength, but a 400-yard passing day should have been enough to get the job done.

Vanderbilt's run game looked great, though

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As much as Florida struggled to get things going on the ground, Vanderbilt’s run game didn’t struggle at all. Senior running back Ray Davis put together 122 yards on 30 attempts, picking up seven first downs along the way.

Davis put the team on his back in this one, and made Florida’s defense look silly. Eventually, it became clear that Florida could not do anything to stop Davis (save for the last Vanderbilt possession of the game), and losing Miller to the targeting call didn’t help.

Florida’s defense has been a strength for the last six quarters of action before this game kicked off, but the unit’s regression was obvious in the loss to Vanderbilt. Expect FSU to take full advantage of the shortcomings shown by Florida’s defense today.

Daejon Reynlods' big day

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Perhaps the only silver lining of the day was wide receiver [autotag]Daejon Reynolds[/autotag]’ breakout performance. He hauled in eight of nine targets on the afternoon for 165 yards and two touchdowns. He made the play of the day in the fourth quarter, a 61-yard touchdown catch that probably should have been overturned and placed half a yard short of the goal line.

Anthony Richardson has only gone over 400 yards twice this season, including this game, and Reynolds was a big part of that magic. The loss is still bigger than any individual performance, but it’s good to see the redshirt freshman make a name for himself. If nothing else, Anthony Richardson has one more target he’s comfortable throwing to against FSU.

Reynolds did drop a pass in the end zone late in the game, but he made up for it with a fourth-down score from 16 yards out. A little bit more speed could make him a serious threat for Florida next season.

There's no defending this one...

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There’s no nice way to put this, but most Florida fans, players and coaches will agree that there’s no excuse for losing to Vanderbilt. This is a stain on Billy Napier’s record that will take a while to recover from.

That may seem like an indictment of Napier, but it’s really just a humble reminder of where exactly this team is in the rebuilding process. Florida might not be at square one, but the team certainly took a step back from any progress it made over the past two weeks.

The culture change is slowly taking place, but wins and losses matter more to poll voters, fans and the team itself. There’s no defending this one.

Florida needs to burn the tape after identifying what went wrong this week and focus on beating Florida State. It’s been a season of learning, and next week is the final.

Story originally appeared on Gators Wire