Andre Hal kept busy Saturday.
In fact, he’s never been more involved in a game — from a stats perspective — in his three years at Vanderbilt. The junior cornerback broke up a career-high three passes and made six tackles as Missouri struggled to string together a consistent passing game.
“They came at me,” Hal said. “They threw the ball at me more and they ran the ball toward me. We were more aggressive with it.”
Perhaps not coincidentally, the Commodores (2-3, 1-2 SEC) also maintained a pass rush for arguably the first time all season. Though they had just one sack, they hurried the quarterback six times. They had just two quarterback pressures in their first four games.
In addition, four of the eight pass breakups were by defensive linemen. Defensive end Walker May batted down balls twice while defensive tackles Rob Lohr and Jared Morse, making his first career start, each disrupted a pass.
“We teed off a little bit there and had a good time doing it,” May said.
This led to a domino effect, making the jobs of the defensive backs a little easier.
“If you got good pressure up front, the quarterback has to get the ball off fast,” Hal said. “If we’re playing good coverage the ball is going to come your way. When the linemen have a good game we’re all going to have a good game.”
With No. 4 Florida rolling into Nashville this Saturday (5 p.m., ESPNU) the question is can the Commodores keep it up?
Most of the focus will be containing running back Mike Gillislee — and for good reason. The senior leads the SEC with 109.6 rushing yards a game and has scored seven touchdowns.
If the Commodores can force the Gators to shy away way from handing off the ball to Gillislee — he averages a league-high 20.3 carries a game — that will open up more opportunities to hit the quarterback.
Sophomore Jeff Driskell has completed 69.2 percent of his passes (63-of-91) with just one interception. But he hasn’t been immune to a pass rush. The Gators are tied with Ole Miss and Auburn for allowing the most sacks (17).
“It is definitely a mentality,” May said. “You definitely got to go out there with the mentality that you’re going to win because it’s one on one.”
That aggressive approach boosted the Commodores in the early going last year.
Coach James Franklin said defensive pressure upfront led to less accurate passes and helped his secondary pick off more throws.
Through the first four games of 2011, they led the country with 14 interceptions. This season they have just two interceptions and five total turnovers. They also have one less sack (nine) than they did last year at this point.
“It is just coming out every day and working technique and working fundamentals and working get-off,” Franklin said about sustaining a pass rush. “It’s recruiting so you have depth and you keep putting those guys in. That’s what the really good teams do they have two-deep and there is not a huge drop off. ... I think [defensive coordinator] Bob [Shoop] has called aggressive games and we have to continue to do that.”
• Sellout: For the first time in four years, Vanderbilt Stadium will be filled to the brim.
Saturday’s game is sold out, school officials announced Wednesday. Florida took 4,176 of its 6,000-ticket allotment. The last sellout also came against the Gators on Nov. 8, 2008. Florida, then ranked fifth in the country, blew out Vanderbilt 42-14.
Vanderbilt came close to reaching capacity of 40,350 in its season opener against South Carolina when 38,393 turned out.
“It’s progress,” Franklin said. “I know a lot of it is the excitement of the team that we’re playing. But, in general, that’s progress. We’ve done a number of things. I think we’ve got a list of them but we got a number of things that we’ve done now in 19 months that probably hadn’t happened here in a long time or four or five years. Every time we knock down the hurdles or obstacles that people said we wouldn’t be able to, it’s a positive.”
Officials also announced that there is an extremely limited number of tickets left for Vanderbilt’s game against Auburn on Oct. 20.