Vanderbilt hopes a fast start helps end losing streak to Florida

Friday, October 12, 2012 at 1:16am

Last year against Florida, a good second half couldn’t make up for a poor opening 30 minutes.

Vanderbilt doesn't want to experience déjà vu. If it does, there’s a good chance an unwanted trend will continue.

Florida rolls into Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday (5 p.m., ESPNU) riding a 21-game winning streak against the Commodores. Watson Brown was last leading the Commodores when they knocked off the Gators 24-9 in 1988.

After halftime this season, Florida (5-0, 4-0 SEC) has made the points hard to come by. The fourth-ranked Gators have outscored opponents 78-13 in second halves and have yet to give a point in the fourth quarter.

“You’ve got to come out fast and finish strong,” defensive tackle Rob Lohr said. “Last year we obviously didn’t do that and we had a terrible first half. This year, we just got to come out, play well and then finish.”

In 2011, Florida pitched a shutout in the first half and scored the game’s first 17 points. 

“I didn’t think we played with the confidence we usually do in the first half,” coach James Franklin said. “During halftime we challenged them and we went out and played aggressively from that point on.”

After trudging through its worst opening half of the season, Vanderbilt showed some resolve. Scoring three touchdowns after the break, the last coming with 76 seconds left, the Commodores came up just short in a 26-21 loss. Still, it was their closest loss to Florida since 2006.

“We’re going against a team that we had to recover an onside kick to win the game,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “A guy I’ve got a lot of respect for is James Franklin. He’s a really good football coach. They’re 2-3 right now but they went down to the wire with [now third-ranked] South Carolina.”

The Gamecocks were the first of three top 10 teams Vanderbilt faced this season.

After falling to then-No. 9 South Carolina 17-13 in the season opener, the Commodores were blown out by Georgia. The Bulldogs were ranked fifth at the time but were routed by South Carolina to drop back to 14th.

Saturday’s game against Florida marks the end of a front-loaded schedule. After that, three of Vanderbilt’s last six games are at home. The second half includes winless Massachusetts and four SEC opponents who are a combined 0-10 in league play.

“You’re tested early,” Lohr said. “Any time you’re playing a tough SEC opponent you’re a little more pumped for it. You usually progress through the season, you keep getting better. When you come out of tough games early it is a little more of a challenge. It is just a matter of being able to face adversity and overcome it.”

Scoring late won’t hurt either.

Before last weekend, the Commodores had scored just six points in the final quarter. On the flip side, they have blown two leads when going into the fourth quarter ahead.

“It is just about finishing and that’s the mentality, especially our defense, has taken,” Lohr said. “We can’t be giving up plays the end of the first half and the fourth quarter. We’ve just got to step up.”