The road woes continue for Vanderbilt and first-year coach James Franklin.
Despite a second-half surge, the Commodores couldn’t climb out of a 17-point hole and lost 26-21 at Florida on Saturday.
Vanderbilt (4-5, 1-5 SEC) falls below .500 for the first time this season and is now 0-3 away from home, compared to 4-2 in Nashville.
The last three losses have been by a combined 13 points. They have also dropped 21 straight to Florida (5-4, 3-4). Vanderbilt’s only victory in Gainesville came in 1945 — the first year the two teams met.
Trailing 20-14, Vanderbilt had a chance to get the ball back with more than five minutes left. But twice the Commodores extended Florida's possession with penalties, which were a problem throughout the contest.
Faced with a fourth-and-1 at its own 15-yard line, Florida lined up to try to get Vanderbilt to jump offsides. It worked. Defensive tackle Rob Lohr crossed the line of scrimmage early, keeping the Gators’ offense on the field.
Then on a third-and-7 with 3:15 left, safety Sean Richardson was flagged for pass interference. Three plays later, Jeff Demps rushed 52 yards for a touchdown. The ensuing two-point conversion failed.
For the game, Vanderbilt was flagged a season-high 12 times for 106 yards.
Quarterback Jordan Rodgers got the Commodores back within a score with 1:13 remaining when he led an 80-yard drive, completing 4-of-5 passes for 67 yards and rushing for 13. Chris Boyd's 10-yard touchdown reception ended that possession, but Florida ended the comebck threat when it recovered Ryan Fowler’s onside kick.
Down 17-0 at halftime, Vanderbilt finally scored in the third quarter on nine-play, 78-yard drive. Rodgers completed all three passes, hitting tight end Brandon Barden twice for 28 yards. Rodgers then took a hit in the pocket as he connected with Jordan Matthews for a 26-yard touchdown with 5:44 left in the third quarter.
After a 40-yard field goal by Florida, Rodgers orchestrated another lengthy drive. The big play was on fourth-and-12 at the Florida 35-yard line. There, Rodgers scrambled out of the pocket, away from pressure and threw to Matthews for a 17-yard pickup.
Facing a third-and-goal at the 8-yard line, Rodgers called his own number. On a quarterback draw he raced into the end zone untouched, cutting the deficit to 20-14 with 10:54 to go in the fourth quarter.
Rodgers finished with a career-high 297 passing yards, completing 19-of-28 for two touchdowns. Matthews was his top target, setting a career-high with nine receptions for 170 yards.
Florida, which snapped a four-game losing streak scored three on straight drives in the second quarter and led 17-0 at halftime. For the first time since a 30-7 victory against Ole Miss in week three, Vanderbilt did not allow a last-minute, first-half touchdown. But the Gators did add to their lead as Sturgis drilled a 54-yard field goal for a 17-0 lead with sevens seconds before halftime.