NASHVILLE, Tenn. – For the first time in years, Florida visits Vanderbilt not ranked in the Top 25. The Gators' goals remain the same: Get back to the Southeastern Conference title game.
The Gators, fresh off their 34-31 overtime win over Georgia, insist they aren't about to overlook a team that has lost three straight and hasn't beaten Florida since 1988 in a skid now at 19 straight games.
Florida quarterback John Brantley said it doesn't matter what Vanderbilt's record is.
"Just because we beat Georgia doesn't mean we're world beaters," Brantley said. "We've just got to keep going, keep practicing hard like we did this past two weeks with that little chip on our shoulders. Just keep fighting and practicing hard."
That's because the Gators (5-3, 3-3) can play for the Eastern Division title that looked long gone after a three-game skid that knocked them out of the Top 25 for the first time since coach Urban Meyer took over in Gainesville. First, they must take care of Vanderbilt (2-6, 1-4) and then host No. 18 South Carolina with the East up for grabs along with a trip to Atlanta.
Florida also must deal with a morning kickoff with temperatures expected to dip into the mid-20s a few hours before kickoff.
"It is a concern because you know that the team you are playing is one of those teams that is looking to get you, and they have the talent to get you," Meyer said. "They run that offense where they have an athletic quarterback. So yes, that is uncomfortable. I think the last time (playing so early) was Ole Miss, down at Ole Miss and that was bizarre."
That game was back in 2007, and the Gators escaped that road trip with a 30-24 win thanks to Tim Tebow.
He's no longer around, so Meyer went to a no-huddle, hurry-up approach on offense during the Gators' open date before playing Georgia. He also has Brantley switching up with Trey Burton at quarterback.
It worked as Burton ran for 110 yards, and the Gators rolled up a season-high 77 plays for 450 yards in their win over Georgia.
"Everybody seems to be getting at their best when we take them on," Vanderbilt coach Robbie Caldwell said.
He took note of the offensive changes Meyer made, and Caldwell said the Gators seem to be back on track.
"They seem to have it going pretty good now. I know that was a big win down there beating Georgia in overtime," Caldwell said.
The Commodores, who use a no-huddle type offense, have been trying to find that improvement too. Florida has played 17 freshmen, tied for most in the nation, and Vanderbilt isn't far behind having played 13. But they have been outscored 113-21 in their past three games — all losses.
Caldwell handed the coordinator job to Des Kitchings before last week's 49-13 loss to then-No. 19 Arkansas. It worked as Vandy scored on its first two drives, then managed only 13 yards the rest of the game. The Commodores rank 114th out of 120 teams averaging 286.8 yards per game, and they lost top rusher Warren Norman to a dislocated right wrist for the season.
"It's always hard to lose one of your best playmakers on the team," Vanderbilt running back Zac Stacy said. "I just hate it for Warren. He's a great athlete, a great player. But we just got to go on."
Vanderbilt does have Casey Hayward, tied for the NCAA lead with five interceptions, and defensive end Tim Fugger ranks third with four forced fumbles.
The Gators will have to take care of the ball like they did against Georgia when they had only one turnover. Meyer also tried to make Vanderbilt prepare for more than just Brantley and Burton. He said former quarterback, now tight end Jordan Reed would throw a pass against the Commodores.
"The issue is right now we're ham-and-egging, you know what I mean by that?" Meyer said. "I mean you're doing this with Trey, you're doing this, you're doing this, but we have to move the ball in a very difficult climate to move the ball. It's called Southeastern Conference and it's called injuries, and we are getting some pieces back."