GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Vanderbilt is getting tired of losing close games.
Jordan Rodgers threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns, and Jordan Matthews caught nine passes for 170 yards and a score. But the Commodores lost another tight game, falling 26-21 at Florida.
Vanderbilt dropped nail-bitters to Georgia and Arkansas in two of its previous three games. So the Commodores are over moral victories, close calls and near misses.
"I'm proud of this team. I wouldn't say especially proud," coach James Franklin said. "I'll be especially proud when we win. There are some positive things that we're doing, but in the end we've got to start finishing."
Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-5 Southeastern Conference) nearly pulled this one out.
But Florida running back Jeff Demps and two crucial penalties were the difference.
Demps, who carried much of the load because of injuries to running back Chris Rainey and quarterback John Brantley, scored on a 5-yard run in the second quarter and saved his best play for last. He made safety Kenny Ladler miss in the open field on a third-and-1 play and went the distance for the winning score.
Demps finished with a career-high 158 yards on the ground.
"When you have world-class speed, it makes it difficult to stop the guy when you're by yourself," Ladler said.
Demps pretty much ended Vanderbilt's comeback.
Florida (5-4, 3-4) led 17-0 at halftime and could have been up by more had it not been for a missed field goal and a fumble at the goal line. But the Commodores scored on consecutive drives in the second half, cutting the lead to 20-14, and had a chance to move ahead.
It didn't happen. Florida took advantage of two penalties to keep the winning drive alive.
Florida, the most penalized team in the nation, was flagged three times for 17 yards. Vanderbilt was flagged 12 times for 106 yards. The last two were crucial.
The Gators lined up to go for it on fourth-and-1 from their own 15-yard line. Trey Burton got under center, barked out cadences and induced Rob Lohr to jump offsides.
"Their noise was a little bit of a factor and it really showed up on a fourth-down play," Franklin said.
Three plays later, backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett rolled right and threw a pass up for grabs near the sideline. Safety Sean Richardson was flagged for interference on the play, moving the chains and keeping the drive alive.
"That's something we've got to work on," Rodgers said. "We can't react to what people say. We've got to play within the whistles and nothing after the whistles. Those 15-yard penalties are huge, drive busters. They put us behind on some drives that ended up stalling because of the penalties. We've got to cut them out. Those are negative-yard plays."
Rodgers' touchdown pass to Chris Boyd with 1:16 remaining made it 26-21, but Florida's Jordan Reed recovered an onside kick to seal the victory.
It provided a sigh of relief throughout Florida Field, as the Gators ended a four-game skid and extended their winning streak over the Commodores to 21 games.
Florida won for the first time Sept. 24. It was the program's longest losing streak since 1988 and certainly dampened Will Muschamp's first season in Gainesville.
"We're building our battle scars right now; we've got a bunch," Muschamp said. "But I know one thing: We're going to have a tough group as we move forward with this, and some guys are going to be tight together in what they do, and we will benefit from the tough times we're traveling through. People better enjoy it while they got it."
Rodgers carved up Florida's secondary.
Nonetheless, the Commodores lost again.
"We want to win and that's why it hurts so much, because we know how much we put in," Matthews said. "We've just got to find a way to get the wins."