NASHVILLE, Tenn.—Vanderbilt's fourth-quarter comeback attempt fell just short, as the Commodores fell 25-19 to the seventh-ranked Florida Gators at Dudley Field.
Vandy's Chris Nickson nearly brought the Commodores back from a 25-6 fourth-quarter deficit by firing touchdowns to George Smith and Earl Bennett, the last with 2:30 to play.
But in-between the two scores, Vanderbilt missed a golden scoring opportunity when Cassen Jackson-Garrison was stopped inches shy on a fourth-down conversion just inside the Florida 10.
The 'Dores failed to recover an onside kick after Bennett's score, and the Gators were able to run out the clock with a combination of a Tim Tebow first-down rush, and the fact that Vanderbilt was out of time outs.
"It is great to be 8-1," said Florida coach Urban Meyer afterwards. "Obviously, we have some more work to get done, but overall I felt that our guys played well."
"I'm proud of our players for playing hard and not giving up," said Vandy coach Bobby Johnson. "We just gave them too many opportunities early on and that cost us the game.
"At times we played well enough to win. Florida is a very fine team with outstanding athletes. They weren't going to give you any gifts."
The opportunities Johnson referred to came on first-half special teams mishaps.
After a Vandy three-and-out on the first possession, Ryan Smith blocked Brett Upson's punt, and the Gators' Butch Rowley recovered at the Vandy 6. Two plays later, Chris Leak scored on a four-yard quarterback sneak.
On the ensuing extra point, a bad snap forced Florida's holder, Rowley, to pick the ball off the turf and scramble to his right, where he found Tate Casey for a two-point pass.
The Gators blocked another punt later, but the defense bailed Vandy out when Curtis Gatewood hit Leak's arm on Florida's first play from the Vandy 26, and Ray Brown picked it off.
Nickson led the Commodores on a 7-play, 90-yard first-quarter scoring drive capped by Jackson-Garrison's 13-yard touchdown run. The two-point conversion failed, and the Gators answered when Leak found Dallas Baker with a 14-yard touchdown with 12:04 remaining in the half, and Chris Hetland's extra point made the lead 15-6.
The Gators nearly added another score before half when Leak took the Gators to the Vandy 19, but was picked off at the Vandy 3 with just under a minute remaining.
Florida dominated the third quarter, out-gaining Vandy 140-61 and holding the ball for over 10 minutes. Leak added another 4-yard touchdown run, and Hetland—who had been just 1-7 on field goal attempts—hit a 29-yarder to put the Gators up 25-6 with 16 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Nickson and receiver Earl Bennett (13 receptions, 157 yards) nearly brought the Commodores back. Bennett had five catches for 89 yards, while Nickson hit 12-of-17 passes for 153 yards in the final quarter.
The Commodores out-gained the Gators 391 to 330, and won the turnover battle 3-1.
However, field position and the inability to stop Baker killed Vandy. Two of the Gators' three touchdown drives started on the Vandy side of the 50, and the drive preceding Hetland's field goal began at the VU 36. Meanwhile, six of Baker's seven catches for 135 yards came for either a touchdown or a first down.