Associated Press Photo
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Sports Network) - Coming off a huge win over then fourth-ranked LSU last weekend, the Florida Gators made a huge jump in the national polls, as they enter this weekend's clash with the Vanderbilt Commodores at No. 4.
Will Muschamp's second season in Gainesville has gotten off to a fast start, as the Gators have won each of their first five games, including an impressive defensive performance in last week's 14-6 victory over the Tigers. With the win, Florida moved to 4-0 in SEC play after winning just three games all of last year.
James Franklin is also in his second season at the helm of his program, but Vanderbilt's success has not matched that of Florida thus far. The Commodores are just 2-3 on the season, but were able to post their first SEC victory of the season last week with a 19-15 win at Missouri.
Florida has dominated this series 34-9-2 and is seeking its 22nd straight victory over Vanderbilt, which hasn't posted a series win since 1988.
The Gators are paced on offense by a rushing attack that ranks 24th nationally and third in the SEC at 214.8 yards per game. The passing attack lags behind at 158.6 yards per game, good for just 111th in the country and dead-last in the conference.
Senior tailback Mike Gillislee is the offensive star for UF, averaging an SEC- best 109.6 yards per game on 5.3 yards per carry. The 5-foot-11, 209-pounder is responsible for seven of the team's 11 rushing TDs to date. He was named the Walter Camp National Offensive Player of the Week for his performance against LSU, rushing for 146 yards and two TDs.
Gillislee has waited a long time for his moment to shine.
"I just want to be remembered," said Gillislee. "I sat back for three years waiting for an opportunity and now I want to make the most of my senior year."
Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel has handled the majority of the work under center and although he has completed an impressive 69.2 percent of his throws, there just aren't many of them (63-of-91), going for just 759 yards and four TDs.
The Florida defense is the driving force behind the team's fast start. The Gators are ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense (11.4 ppg), second in pass efficiency defense (88.45) and 12th in total defense (2840 ypg). In addition, the team has forced 10 turnovers, including seven interceptions.
Senior safety Josh Evans currently leads the team in tackles with 31 stops. Senior linebacker Jonathan Bostic is a close second (28 stops), leading the team in TFLs (5.0) and tied for the team-lead in sacks (2.0).
Franklin knows his team will have its hands full with the Gator defense.
"Defensively, they're a challenge," Franklin said at his weekly press conference. "The biggest difference in their defense this year is their depth. They've always recruited well, but they have a two-deep now that they're very confident with. They're able to rotate people in there and keep them fresh, which makes them even more challenging. There are no gimmes; it's tough to get any advantage against them. Their front four is extremely good, and they held LSU to under 200 yards total offense. They've also held opponents three times without a score in the second half this year."
With the exception of the blowout of FCS foe Presbyterian (58-0), Vanderbilt has struggled to put points on the scoreboard, putting up over 13 points just one other time with last week's 19-point total against Missouri. The team does have some balance, but just doesn't excel in any one area, averaging 153.6 yards on the ground and 212.6 through the air.
After rushing for just under 1,200 yards and 14 TDs in 2011 and earning All- SEC honors, Zac Stacy is once again the centerpiece to the offense. The senior tailback is averaging 82.6 yards per game in 2012, with three TDs.
Senior quarterback Jordan Rodgers has handled the majority of the snaps under center, throwing for 831 yards and two TDs. Junior wideout Jordan Matthews is clearly the top target down the field, coming into this contest with 35 receptions, for 486 yards and two TDs.
The Commodores have played well against the pass this season (162.4 ypg), but the rush defense has left a lot to be desired, as foes are netting 179.0 yards per game on 4.3 yards per carry. Shoring things up at the point of attack is a must with Florida's strong ground game coming to town. Creating turnovers is another area of concern heading into this game, with Vanderbilt only registering five takeaways thus far.
Junior free safety Kenny Ladler leads the team in tackles with 35 stops. Fellow safety Javon Marshall and middle linebacker Chase Garnham are tied for second with 32 stops each, while Garnham leads the team with two sacks. Junior outside linebacker Karl Butler (24 tackles) has made plays upfield, as a quarter of his stops (6) have been behind the line of scrimmage.