GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Florida’s latest home win had more to do with Kentucky than Vanderbilt.
One week after an embarrassing road loss to the Wildcats, the Gators “got off the mat” and delivered a resounding victory against the Commodores.
Graham Mertz threw three touchdown passes, including two to converted tight end Arlis Boardingham, and Florida handled Vanderbilt 38-14 on Saturday and improved to 4-0 this season in the Swamp.
“If you get knocked down, you got to get back up,” Mertz said. “That was kind of our theme this week.”
Added defensive end Tyreak Sapp: “Wipe the dirt off. You try to not let that happen, but it does. The thing is how do you respond?”
The Gators (4-2, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) bounced back from a 33-14 drubbing in Lexington and avenged a stunning loss in Nashville a year ago.
Mertz and Boardingham came up big in the rematch. Mertz, who got knocked to the ground several times and once that forced him to miss two plays, completed 30 of 36 passes for 254 yards before giving way to Max Brown in the fourth. Mertz had scoring throws of 2 and 15 yards to Boardingham, who spent all week lamented a tipped pass that turned into an early interception against Kentucky.
“It was a lot,” Boardingham quipped.
Boardingham, who entered the game with six receptions for 51 yards, finished with seven catches for 99 yards and two end-zone celebrations.
Florida’s defense, after getting gouged for 329 yards rushing last week, gave up 64 on the ground against Vandy.
“Sometimes you don’t play the way you want to play,” Gators coach Billy Napier said. “You’ve got to get up off the mat and go back in the ring as a competitor. … We played a little more like we want to today.”
The Commodores (2-5, 0-3) have dropped five in a row, including three consecutive league games by at least 17 points each.
Florida racked up 495 yards, including 215 rushing. Montrell Johnson led the way with 135 yards and a touchdown on 18 carries.
Vanderbilt can point to three failed fourth-down plays as the difference. Quincy Skinner fumbled on one. Kamrean Johnson dropped another. And Ken Seals was sacked on the third.
“The key for us today was missed opportunities,” Vandy coach Clark Lea said. “We have to be better in those moments to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Seals, getting his second consecutive start in place of AJ Swann, finished 19 of 34 for 276 yards with two touchdowns. He had completions of 52 and 85 yards in the first half, but he was mostly ineffective down the stretch.
Leading 7-0 and in Vanderbilt territory, Napier dialed up a trick play that was a head-scratcher even for Florida’s lackluster offense. The double pass started with Graham Mertz throwing backward to Kahleil Jackson, who then floated a deep ball to running back Montrell Johnson.
Safety CJ Taylor jumped in front for the team’s eighth interception of the season.
“He’s going to get it for that,” Napier said. “Can’t get more open than that.”
Vandy scored two plays later, when Seals connected with Will Sheppard for 85 yards to tie the game.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores don’t seem to have the offensive firepower or the defensive fortitude to compete in the SEC. So it could be another long season for Lea, who is now 2-17 in league play in three seasons.
Florida: The Gators needed a victory to get back on track, but their season gets tougher from here. Florida plays two of its next four away from home, where the Gators have dropped 15 of 17.
Vanderbilt hosts two-time defending national champion Georgia on Saturday. The Commodores were outscored 117-0 in the last two meetings.
Florida plays at South Carolina next Saturday. The last two meetings have been blowouts, with the Gamecocks winning 40-17 in Columbia in 2021 and the Gators winning 38-6 last year in the Swamp.
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