NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Florida Gators aren’t in the mood to pick apart a road win in the Southeastern Conference, especially after last week’s ugly loss.
No matter what they might need to fix.
Jordan Scarlett ran for a 4-yard touchdown with Eddy Pineiro adding a pair of field goals as No. 23 Florida held off Vanderbilt 13-6 Saturday.
“A wise man once said, ‘you even have to bring your ugly babies home from the hospital,’ and that was ugly,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “In fact that might have been what someone told my dad when I was born. But I feel really good that our guys found a way to win.”
Florida (4-1, 2-1 Southeastern Conference) came up with two interceptions and two sacks on a day where the Gators defense otherwise struggled against one of the nation’s worst offenses with three starting linemen missing most of the game.
Ralph Webb ran for 110 yards as Vanderbilt outgained Florida 265-236 in total offense. The Commodores (2-3, 0-2) had a final chance to force overtime until Nick Washington intercepted a Wade Freebeck pass with 54 seconds left sealing the Gators’ win.
The Gators never trailed and led 10-3 after Scarlett scored on a 4-yard touchdown run, and Pineiro kicked a 42-yard field goal as the half expired. Pinero added a 26-yarder with 8:17 left.
Florida had a chance to pad its lead after Vanderbilt punter Sam Loy fumbled the snap and lost the ball with 5:07 left with the Commodores trailing 13-6. But Austin Appleby fumbled the snap on second-and-goal at the Vanderbilt 1 with 2:56 left giving the Commodores one last chance.
“It’s beyond me how you fumble the ball on a quarterback sneak at the end of the game,” McElwain said. “It happened, and yet our defense stepped up. They had to step up twice.”
Florida: This set up as the perfect trap game for the Gators between Tennessee and LSU against an opponent they’ve dominated over the years. The Gators had the majority of the 30,565 fans in Florida colors and still came out sluggish. Still, the Gators take home their third straight win and 25th in the last 26 games in this series. McElwain complimented the turnout by the Gators’ fans.
“I really think it had an effect on one of those third downs when they were coming out of their end zone,” McElwain said.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores finally showed signs of the stingy defense that ranked in the top 30 nationally in a lot of categories last season. Better yet, Webb gashed a defense that had been giving up only 76.5 yards rushing.
“This group is playing to win,” Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason said. “We’re not satisfied with moral victories. There are no moral victories in football. This team is growing up and playing extremely hard.”
The Gators played most of the game without three starting defensive lineman. Senior defensive tackle Joey Ivie missed the game with a thumb injury that will sideline him at least a month. Defensive ends Bryan Cox Jr. and Jordan Sherit played sparingly with injuries. Without them, sophomore defensive tackle Khairi Clark made his second career start, and defensive ends CeCe Jefferson (sophomore) and Jabari Zuniga (freshman) saw extensive time.
“Obviously, we were missing some guys, but I feel like we played well,” Gators defensive tackle Caleb Brantley said.
Vanderbilt had forced only two three-and-outs in each of the Commodores’ past three games. The Commodores opened this game forcing the Gators three-and-out on their first two drives. Adam Butler also had two sacks on one drive for a defense that hadn’t managed more than one sack in each of the past three games.
Florida: The Gators return home to host LSU, the only SEC team to beat the Gators during the regular season last year in winning the Eastern Division.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores visit Kentucky still looking for their first SEC win.
Follow Teresa M. Walker at www.twitter.com/teresamwalker