12:30 PM ET, November 4, 2006
Vanderbilt Stadium, NASHVILLE, TN
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- Urban Meyer and his Florida Gators care only about victories, not style points or pretty stats.
Chris Leak ran for two touchdowns and threw for another Saturday as the seventh-ranked Gators survived Vanderbilt's fourth-quarter rally for a 25-19 win, their 16th straight victory in the series.
"Winning's all that matters," Florida coach Urban Meyer said.
Maybe not. The Gators were fourth in the Bowl Championship Series standings last week and moving up won't be easy if they continue to play tight games.
"Are we playing all the time like a championship team? No," Meyer said. "Championship teams take a big swing at you in the third, fourth quarter and knock you down. We're not doing that."
With the win, and Tennessee's 28-24 loss to LSU, the Gators (8-1, 6-1) clinched the Southeastern Conference's Eastern Division title for the first time since 2000 and a berth in the league championship game.
"It would be great for our program and great to do something that hasn't been done since 2000," Meyer said before getting on the plane to return home to Florida.
The Vanderbilt Commodores (4-6, 1-5) are making a habit of scaring the Gators.
They took the Gators to double overtime last season in the Swamp. On Saturday, they came in looking for another upset of a ranked team after breaking a 14-year and 49-game drought in such games at Georgia last month.
The defense did its part by sacking Leak four times and intercepting him three times - a season-high for the Gators.
"Vanderbilt is a very disciplined defense on playing their assignments," Leak said. "Eventually, things started going our way."
The Commodores scored 13 points in the fourth quarter against Florida, including a 31-yard touchdown catch by Earl Bennett with 2:30 left, to pull within 25-19. Not until Florida recovered an onside kick were the Gators in the clear.
"Deep down, I felt like we should have won this game," Bennett said.
Florida also came up with a key stop on fourth-and-2, tackling Cassen Jackson-Garrison short of the Gators' 9 with 6:06 left.
"I felt that our guys at the end of the game on defense got pushed in a little bit," Meyer said. "But I think that is a product of fatigue and of the schedule that we play."
Florida, playing without senior tackle Marcus Thomas who was dismissed from the team, gave up a season-high 391 yards offense but blocked two punts and came up with one turnover. The nation's ninth stingiest defense had been holding opponents to 261 yards.
"I'm proud of our players for playing hard and not giving up," Vandy coach Bobby Johnson said.
"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 Gators led 15-6 at halftime and went up 25-6 in a third quarter. Even Chris Hetland got into the action for Florida. The kicker who came in 1-of-7 on field goals split the uprights with a 29-yarder late in the third.
Florida announced late in the fourth quarter that Thomas, who had been listed on the depth chart, had been dismissed from the team. He had been suspended indefinitely for violating the school's substance-abuse policy, but the penalty was later lifted by a university review and he played against LSU, Auburn and Georgia.
As well as Vanderbilt finished, it couldn't have opened much worse.
Ryan Smith blocked Brett Upson's punt on the Commodores' opening drive, and Butch Rowley recovered at the Vandy 6.
Leak scored two plays later, running in from 4 yards. The Gators botched the snap on the extra point, but even that worked out well. Rowley picked up the ball, rolled right and threw it to Tate Casey for the 2-point conversion and an 8-0 lead.
Leak also tossed a 14-yard TD pass to Dallas Baker early in the second quarter.
"It always feels great to get the ball and make a couple of plays, and also to get a victory," Baker said.
Florida should have had an even bigger lead, but the Gators gave the ball back to Vandy after their second blocked punt on the next play when Curtis Gatewood deflected Leak's pass to Ray Brown. They could have scored before halftime except Jonathan Goff intercepted Leak's pass at the Vandy 3.
Top 25 Overview
It was over when... Florida recovered an onside kick with just over two minutes remaining in the game.
Gameball goes to... Gators special teams. The Gators blocked two punts on the day and converted a two-point conversion after a bad snap.
Stat of the game... 391. The Gators gave up a season-high 391 total yards. Florida had been holding teams to 261 yards, good for 9th in the nation.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||2-9||3-14|
|4th Down Conversions||0-0||1-2|
|TD||12:21||CHRIS LEAK 4 YD RUN (TATE CASEY 2PT PASS FROM CHRIS LEAK)|
Drive info: 2 plays, 6 yards.
|TD||6:17||CASSEN JACKSON-GARRISON 13 YD RUN (FAILED 2PT PASS)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 90 yards.
|TD||12:04||DALLAS BAKER 14 YD PASS FROM CHRIS LEAK (CHRIS HETLAND KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 49 yards.
|TD||8:12||CHRIS LEAK 4 YD RUN (CHRIS HETLAND KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 69 yards.
|FG||0:16||CHRIS HETLAND 29 YD FG|
Drive info: 6 plays, 24 yards.
|TD||11:33||GEORGE SMITH 10 YD PASS FROM CHRIS NICKSON (FAILED 2PT PASS)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 74 yards.
|TD||2:30||EARL BENNETT 31 YD PASS FROM CHRIS NICKSON (BRYANT HAHNFELDT KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 54 yards.