NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Mike Wright threw three touchdown passes and Vanderbilt upset Florida 31-24 on Saturday afternoon for its second straight Southeastern Conference victory.
There were hugs and dancing on the field, but after a 26-game SEC skid, winning two games in a row is something Vanderbilt coach Clark Lea is taking in stride.
“This is a new era in Vanderbilt football,” Lea said. “This is a game where we can look back and see when the shift happened.
“This is another step in our journey. With continued support and continued effort we have great things ahead for this program.”
Vanderbilt (5-6, 2-5) took a 7-3 lead and never looked back against Florida (6-5, 3-5). The loss ended a two-game win streak for the Gators, who had won their last eight games against Vanderbilt.
Lea was impressed with the run game led by Ray Davis with 122 of the Commodores’ 175 rushing yards.
“I was very impressed with the offensive line,” Lea said. “They are playing physically. Ray Davis had another huge game.”.
Florida opened the scoring with a 26-yard field goal by Adam Mihalek and managed nothing but a 44-yard Mihalek field goal the rest of the half.
Vanderbilt took a 7-3 lead in the second quarter when Mike Wright connected with Jayden McGowan for a 10-yard touchdown
The Commodores weren’t finished.
With 3:22 left in the first half, Florida’s Jason Marshall Jr. fumbled a punt from Vanderbilt’s Matthew Hayball at the Gators’ 5-yard line. The ball rolled into the end zone where it was recovered by Wesley Schelling for the touchdown and a 14-6 Vanderbilt lead at the half.
Florida struck on its first possession of the third quarter. Anthony Richardson found running back Montrell Johnson Jr. on the right side for a 3-yard scoring pass to get the Gators within 14-12. A two-point conversion pass failed.
Wright connected with flanker Gavin Schoenwald for a 7-yard touchdown with 3:22 left in the third and Vanderbilt led 21-12.
Jaylen Mahoney picked off a Richardson pass and the Commodores took over at the Florida 28-yard line. Wright fired a scoring strike to tight end Ben Bresnahan on first down and the Commodores took a 28-12 lead into the final quarter.
Richardson connected with Daejon Reynolds for a 74-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter, but Florida trailed 28-18 after the two-point conversion pass failed again.
Joseph Bulovas kicked a 27-yard field goal with 4:38 left to play to extend Vanderbilt’s lead to 31-18.
Richardson passed to Reynolds for a 16-yard score with 3:13 remaining to cap the scoring for Florida.
“It’s a setback no question,” Florida coach Billy Napier said. “It is a little bit of a reality check.
“There were a lot of missed opportunities. I saw a lot of Florida beating Florida.””
Florida: The Gators defense extended its shutout streak to seven quarters in a row holding the Commodores to 94 yards in the first quarter including zero yards on the Commodores’ first drive.
The streak ended in the second quarter when Vanderbilt took a 7-3 lead. The Gators gave the 81-yard drive by Vanderbilt a huge assist with a pair of 15-yard penalties for unnecessary roughness and a facemask. The Gators were penalized seven times for 80 yards in the game
Vanderbilt: With the wins at Kentucky and at home against Florida, the Commodores have won two SEC games in a row for the first time since 2018 when they beat Ole Miss and Tennessee. At 5-6 they are one win away from being bowl eligible.
A knack for recovering fumbles continued to be a plus for the Commodores. They entered the game with 10 fumble recoveries tying for second in the SEC and 13th nationally.
Florida: The Gators are on the road at No. 20 Florida State for the final regular-season game.
Vanderbilt: The Commodores host fifth-ranked Tennessee in the regular-season finale.