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Sports

Special performance

Florida Today
Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 05:17 PM
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -

Florida's special teams were special — as was Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel — during Saturday's 31-17 win at Vanderbilt.

The victory set up huge back-to-back weeks in the SEC East for the Gators (6-0, 5-0 SEC), with showdowns next Saturday against South Carolina at The Swamp and the following week against Georgia in Jacksonville.

"Going on the road in this league, it's tough to go on the road continuing to win and our guys have proven that," coach Will Muschamp said after the Gators beat Vandy for the 22nd consecutive time. "Jeff had an outstanding game running the football."

Florida's defense, for the first time this season, did not look unbeatable in the second half. It allowed an opposing team to score in the fourth quarter for the first time when Zac Stacy got a running touchdown from 1 yard out with 8:57 to play.

After a UF field goal from 26 yards, Caleb Sturgis' third of the game, Vandy drove to the Gators' 4 before settling for a Carey Spear 22-yard field goal with 2:35 remaining.

Driskel, who finished with 11 carries for 177 yards, then broke free for a 70-yard run that wrapped the game up for the Gators.

It was the most yards rushing in a game by a Florida quarterback. Tim Tebow had 166 yards on 27 carries against Ole Miss in his Heisman Trophy season in 2007.

"That was never a goal," Driskel said of breaking a Tebow record. "You don't think about individual goals. If you do, you're not a team player."

Florida, which had 326 yards rushing — 10 yards shy of the season high against Tennessee — got an early lead thanks to a trick play after its first touchdown to get a two-point conversion, increased the margin with Sturgis' first field goal just before the half, blocked a Vandy field goal that could have made it a one-point game, then blew it open with a fake punt in the third quarter.

Solomon Patton's 54-yard run down the left sideline on the fake gave Florida the ball at the Vandy 3. After a penalty, Driskel bolted 13 yards for an 18-7 lead. It also put him over 100 yards for the first time in his career.

"When I got (the ball) and looked up and I saw so much grass I got real excited," Patton said. "So I just took off."

Without the special teams, the game could have been tied going into the fourth quarter.

Vanderbilt played well most of the night.

The Commodores (2-4, 1-3) went up 7-0 at the 6:45 mark in the first quarter, driving 66 yards in six plays. On third-and-6 from the Gators' 10, Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers found the SEC's leading receiver, Jordan Matthews, in the back of the end zone.

Rodgers threw the ball high to the 6-foot-3 Matthews in the right corner, just clearing a leaping 5-10 Matt Elam.

"It's nothing we haven't been through before," linebacker Jon Bostic said of being behind early. "You don't win games in the first quarter."

Florida, which has had to come from behind to win four of its five SEC games, took the lead early in the second quarter with a 91-yard drive over 11 plays and 5:01. Driskel scored on a 37-yard run down the left sideline with freshman receiver Latroy Pittman throwing a key block. It was, at the time, the second-longest run in Driskel's career — bested by the fourth-quarter 70-yarder.

"They were keying on (running back Mike) Gillislee all night, which they should," Driskel said. "He's having a great season."

Vanderbilt coach James Franklin agreed.

"We put too much emphasis on stopping their running back that we overcompensated and were susceptible to a big run by the quarterback," he said. "He's explosive, athletic and fast. … Jeff is a big, athletic guy who is fast. If you give him an opportunity to make big plays, he will."

The Gators lined up for the extra point but snapped the ball to Trey Burton and he ran it in for a two-point conversion with 11:27 left in the half. That gave Florida the lead for good.

After the win was secured, UF could turn its attention to the next two weeks.

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