Florida slogs through road win against Vanderbilt

Edgar Thompson, Orlando Sentinel

Two of the best teams in Florida football history previously barely escaped Vanderbilt with a win.

Time will tell whether Dan Mullen’s 2020 squad reaches the heights of the school’s 1996 and 2006 squads, two of the program’s three national title teams.

But Saturday in Nashville the struggle was real once again for the Gators.

UF erased two early deficits and eventually pulled away from winless Vanderbilt for a 38-17 win behind another nice day from Kyle Trask and Kadarius Toney. Trask finished with 383 passing yards and three touchdowns while Toney had 191 all-purpose yards.

The No. 6 Gators (6-1), though, were unable to get comfortable until midway through the fourth quarter due to another shaky day by Todd Grantham’s defense.

Impressive Vanderbilt freshman quarterback Ken Seals capitalized, while outdueling the record-setting Trask for much of the first half. Seals opened the game 10-of-11 passing and led his team to leads of 7-0 and 10-7.

The Commodores’ first touchdown drive was clinical, featuring 11 plays for 75 yards, culminating with a 16-yard touchdown catch by Chris Pierce.

Trask answered the Commodores’ score with a workmanlike drive himself, capped by a 27-yard touchdown pass to Toney, the senior’s eighth touchdown of the season. With UF tied 10-10 late in the half, Trask finally asserted himself and showed why he is receiving strong consideration for the Heisman Trophy, the sport’s top individual award.

During a seven-play, 85-yard drive that required fewer than two minutes, Trask completed all five of his throws for 83 yards. Senior receiver Trevon Grimes ended the drive with a leaping 34-yard catch requiring every inch of his 6-foot-5 frame and vertical leap to come down with the football.

The touchdown gave the Gators a 17-10 lead and some much-needed momentum heading to the locker room.

After receiving the kickoff to open the second half, Florida settled down to put together third-quarter scoring drives of 75 and 91 yards.

Mullen needed a daring play call to help get his team going. Facing fourth-and-1 from their own 34-yard line, Mullen gave the football to tailback Dameon Pierce, who had to fight his way for two yards and a first down.

Trask followed with three completions for 49 yards, including a 36-yard hook-up with Toney. Pierce scored on a 1-yard run five plays later. A 46-yard completion to Penn State transfer receiver Justin Shorter highlighted the Gators’ next scoring drive.

Seals’ 58-yard touchdown throw to Pierce late in the third quarter trimmed Florida’s lead to 31-17. A fumble by Toney on the Gators’ next possession gave the Commodores (0-7) another chance, but Seals could not capitalize as Florida stayed on track for a Dec. 19 trip to the SEC title game.

———

©2020 The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.)

Visit The Orlando Sentinel (Orlando, Fla.) at www.OrlandoSentinel.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.