- Associated Press - Friday, September 29, 2017

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Vanderbilt and Florida have played tight games the last two years.

Considering Florida’s most recent performances, no one would be surprised to see another one Saturday. Given Vanderbilt’s outing a week ago, the Commodores certainly would welcome it.

The 21st-ranked Gators (2-1, 2-0 Southeastern Conference) host the Vandy (3-1, 0-1) in the first of three consecutive home games that could strengthen Florida’s position atop the Eastern Division. Florida has won 25 of the last 26 in the series, including three in a row, but the last two have been far from gimmes. Coach Jim McElwain’s team needed a late interception to seal a 13-6 win last year and a 43-yard field goal in the closing minutes in 2016 for a 9-7 victory.

“They always play us tough,” Florida safety Nick Washington said. “That’s been an emphasis for us this year and with Coach this week: ‘Come out with our hair on fire and make plays.’”

The Gators waited until late in their last two games to do so. They needed a 63-yard touchdown pass on the final play to beat Tennessee two weeks ago at Florida Field and overcame a 13-point deficit in the fourth quarter at Kentucky last week.

“We definitely have been finishing,” Washington said. “There’s just something about getting it started early and not waiting until later in the game to get momentum.”

Vanderbilt could use some momentum after last week’s 59-0 home loss to top-ranked Alabama. The Commodores gave up 38 first downs and 677 yards, including 496 on the ground.

Coach Derek Mason responded by calling his offensive line soft and putting his guys in full pads Monday, hoping one lopsided loss doesn’t lead to another.

“When you get punched in the mouth, sometimes it’s not what’s wanted; it’s what’s necessary,” Mason said. “We got punched in the mouth, and that was necessary. Quick wake-up call. ‘Let’s turn it around. It’s been flushed, but it’s hardened me a little bit.’”

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Here are some other things to know about Vanderbilt and Florida:

QB CHANGE: Florida will have a new (well, old) starting quarterback against Vanderbilt. McElwain demoted redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks and will go with Luke Del Rio , who went 5-1 as the starter last season before sustaining a season-ending shoulder injury. Del Rio came off the bench at Kentucky and completed 9 of 14 passes for 74 yards, including a 5-yard game-winner to uncovered Freddie Swain with 43 seconds remaining.

GROUNDED OFFENSE: The Commodores rank last in the SEC in offense, averaging 279 yards a game, and are tied for 123rd nationally. Ralph Webb, the school’s all-time leading rusher, has been a big focus of defenses and found little running room. Webb, a Gainesville native, is averaging 2.6 yards a carry and 42.2 yards a game. “There are no magic pills. There are no magic plays. There are no magic drills that we’re going to do in practice,” Mason said. “It’s not good enough to play in the SEC right now.”

SACK TIME: The Commodores have figured out how to get to opposing quarterbacks after managing only 15 sacks last season. Vanderbilt already has 11 sacks this year, with Charles Wright leading the way with six.

FLORIDA DRAMA: The Gators will be without nine players suspended indefinitely for allegedly racking up nearly $20,000 in unauthorized credit card charges and using the money to buy electronics. It’s an ongoing distraction the team may have to deal with all season. “The big piece is how you deal with it really reveals who you are,” McElwain said. “How you let it get to you really reveals who you are.”

FAMILY TIES: Mason’s daughter, Makenzie, is a freshman on Florida’s lacrosse team. She will be attending a fall tournament in Maryland instead of the football game Saturday. That might be a good thing for dad considering her allegiances. “She’s a Gator,” Mason said. “She loves dad, dearly, but when we signed to go to the University of Florida, that’s who she’s committed to, that’s the way her dad raised her. I’m good with that. She just knows when she comes back to the house she better not have on any Gator gear.”

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More AP college football: www.collegefootball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP_Top25

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