GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- It's been more than a month since the Florida Gators played inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and it hasn't been a good month. The team that left with a 4-1 record limped back (literally) with a few more key injuries, three consecutive losses and some serious questions about its future.
Florida averages a little more than 330 yards of offense a game, which ranks 110th out of 123 schools in the FBS. Of course, those injuries have played a major role, as UF has lost its starting quarterback, starting running back, two starting offensive tackles and a senior wide receiver -- all for the season.
But this is Florida, where quality depth is more than expected, it's practically a birthright amid such fertile recruiting turf. A .500 record with losses to rivals Georgia and Miami is even less acceptable to the fans when they're not being entertained by the offense.
With difficult games ahead against No. 12 South Carolina and No. 2 Florida State, the Gators are in a fight to become bowl-eligible. Losing Saturday to Vanderbilt would turn the heat way up on Will Muschamp and his coaching staff. It would put Florida's 22-year bowl appearance streak (the second-longest active streak in the nation) in serious jeopardy.
To avoid such a fate, the Gators will have to get their offense on track and carry over some of the momentum they generated in a second half against Georgia that at least showed some signs of life.
They might want to replicate last year's game plan against the Commodores, when Jeff Driskel ran for 177 yards and scored three touchdowns to lead the way in a 31-17 win in Nashville, Tenn.
There's no doubt Vandy head coach James Franklin has looked at the film in an attempt to prepare his team for Driskel's similarly mobile replacement, Tyler Murphy.
"They've been able to recruit big, strong guys," Franklin said earlier this week. "[Murphy] is another guy like that. Obviously that's something that we've been working on for over a year now is trying to improve in that area of the game defensively. But we know that's going to be one of the bigger challenges going into this game, stopping the quarterback from being a big factor in the running game."
Another challenge for Vanderbilt? History.
The Gators have won their last 22 games against the Commodores, a streak that started in 1989. Gainesville has been particularly harsh for Vanderbilt, which has one win in in 21 contests here.
With its winning streak in the series and its bowl streak both at 22, the question for Florida is how lucky is the number 23?