Nov. 7, 2009
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Everything top-ranked Florida seemingly fixed on offense last week looked out of whack again against Vanderbilt.
Tim Tebow accounted for two touchdowns -- one of them on a tipped pass -- Caleb Sturgis kicked two field goals and the Gators beat the Commodores 27-3 in a lackluster effort Saturday night at The Swamp.
It probably left Florida fans, many of them looking for something positive following linebacker Brandon Spikes' one-game suspension for dirty play and coach Urban Meyer's hefty fine for criticizing officials, disappointed. But the result was a 19th consecutive victory for the defending national champions.
"Have you ever gone 19-0?" Meyer said. "It's not ho-hum, I can assure you that. If it's ho-hum for someone, you've got to really reflect to say, 'Where am I headed in this life right now?' If 19-0 in the Southeastern Conference at the University of Florida is ho-hum, then you've got one exciting life, man, you've got a lot of good stuff going for you.
"I don't ever want to take anything away from what those cats have done. Two out of three times we're going to go play in Atlanta for the SEC championship in the best conference in college football. There's absolutely nothing ho-hum about what this team is doing."
Indeed. But the Gators (9-0, 7-0 Southeastern Conference) struggled on offense for the fifth time in seven league games.
The solution was standing on the sideline in street clothes. Percy Harvin, a first-round draft pick by the Minnesota Vikings, attended the game along with former teammate and current Oakland Raiders receiver Louis Murphy.
A week after finding some offensive rhythm in a 41-17 victory over Georgia and clinching a spot in the SEC title game, Florida looked more like the team that eked out close games against Tennessee, LSU, Arkansas and Mississippi State.
Tebow completed 15 of 20 passes for 208 yards and a touchdown. But a big chunk of his yardage came on a 64-yard run-and-catch by Aaron Hernandez late in the fourth quarter, and his TD pass to David Nelson in the fourth quarter came on a ball that slipped through Riley Cooper's fingers near the goal line.
"You'd like to put the ball in the end zone more and not kick field goals," said Tebow, who also ran 16 times for 27 yards and a score. "But we're going to be happy being 9-0. Not too many teams in the country are 9-0."
Vanderbilt, coming off a 56-31 loss to Georgia Tech in which it allowed 497 yards rushing, returned to its usually stout defensive ways. The Commodores (2-8, 0-6), who have lost six in a row, sacked Tebow four times.
They played mostly zone and blitzed early and often, taking away deep passes and keeping steady pressure on the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner.
"We need big plays," Meyer said. "Any offense in the country, to get production, you need big plays. ... We're just not getting that. I know everyone is pressing to get it done, and we have to get that done with these games coming up."
Florida finished with 375 yards, but about a third of them came late in the game -- well after some fans headed for the exits.
Jeff Demps ran seven times for 57 yards and a touchdown that came on one of the few option plays Florida ran. Hernandez finished with seven catches for 120 yards. Florida's defense was stingy as usual, giving up 199 yards and not allowed a touchdown for the fifth time this season.
Spikes was hardly missed. He watched the game from the sideline in a warmup suit and with a freshly shaved face -- maybe an attempt to change his image following his eye-gouging incident against the Bulldogs.
Linebackers Dustin Doe and Ryan Stamper filled in well, helping shut down Vandy's offense. The 'Dores didn't take too many chances with quarterback Mackenzi Adams making his first start of the season.
Adams was 13 of 29 for 100 yards, with an interception. He used a lot of quick passes to avoid Florida's pass rush, and it worked. The Gators failed to sack him.
Vanderbilt could have made it even closer had it not been for two costly errors. Florida turned Adams' pick into a touchdown and scored after punter Brett Upson mistakenly touched his knee to the ground as he fielded a low snap deep in Vanderbilt territory.
"We can't mess up in those situations," said Commodores coach Bobby Johnson, whose team trailed 13-0 at halftime and 20-3 entering the fourth. "It's hard to beat a good team."