The first inclination would be to say why all the excitement for beating Vanderbilt?
Despite four straight losses, the Florida Gators are supposed to beat those guys from Nashville, who are known more for their GPA than BCS.
But this is not to diminish the Gators’ victory over Vanderbilt on a cold, blustery Saturday in The Swamp.
Vanderbilt is the only SEC football program that has never been on probation. It is considered the Ivy League of the South, which is a reason an SEC title won’t be coming anytime soon.
However, this current group of scholars from the Music City is no longer a sure thing.
On the other hand, neither are the Gators, even in the Swamp.
They can no longer be counted on to win games they are supposed to win. That idea left when Urban Meyer bolted out the door.
Vanderbilt has the SEC’s leading rusher in Zac Stacy (7.3 yards per carry) and should’ve beaten Arkansas last week. Commodores quarterback Jordan Rodgers has an older brother named Aaron who takes snaps for the Green Bay Packers.
He is no Aaron, but he looked like the second coming after halftime, making us think he must have gotten a call from big brother. In the second half, the junior college transfer riddled the Gators for 220 yards passing, connecting on 14 of 19 attempts and throwing two touchdown passes.
Things were starting to unravel for the Gators, who held a comfortable 17-0 lead at halftime and were up 20-7 after three quarters.
Florida head coach Will Muschamp then turned to the one player who can match Vanderbilt in the classroom and outdo the Commodores on the football field.
Jeff Demps, the diminutive back who gets criticized for being too small to break tackles, carried the Gators to a much-needed victory. The senior running back rushed for a career-high 158 yards on 23 attempts for a 6.9 average.
Demps is like the guy who sits in the back of the classroom and gets all A’s but nobody notices him because he rarely speaks. He never brags and doesn’t bring his ego to the game.
The senior got the bulk of the work because Chris Rainey was out with an injury. Demps is about as close to being 100 percent healthy as he has been in more than two years.
“Jeff is a guy who every time he has been healthy for us has been very productive,” Muschamp said. “He is a great teammate. He carries a 3.5 grade-pointaverage and is a ‘yes sir, no sir’ kind of guy. He is what being a student-athlete is all about.”
The 5-foot-7 Demps is listed at 191 pounds on the Gators’ roster. If you stand next to him, you know that’s not true. He is about 175 on a good day after coming out of the shower dripping wet.
With Florida clinging to a 20-14 lead and facing a third and one at its own 48, Demps broke free on a 52-yard TD run to give the Gators the points they needed to win.
“Breaking tackles is all about determination. It doesn’t matter what other people think,” Demps said. “On that touchdown, it was a short yardage play that we went over in practice all week. They were all in the box and once I got the flip, I was able to capitalize on it.”
With Demps supplying the boost, the Gators ran for 197 yards after rushing for a combined 175 yards during their four-game losing streak.
The consummate company man, Demps refused to take the credit.
“The offensive line did a great job of opening up holes all day and the receivers did a great job on the perimeter blocking,” Demps said. “The coach challenged all of us to step up without Rainey, and we were able to do that. Without the offensive line, I wouldn’t be here talking to you.”
Demps did what others have done for him. He has struggled with injuries the last couple of years and has never been able to showcase his world-class speed and ability to elude tacklers. With one more victory, the Gators can secure a bowl bid and give him four more games.
“It’s been frustrating with all the injuries, but I am just trying to cherish every moment as my career winds down,” Demps said. “This only happens once in a lifetime. My mentality changed when I knew I was going to get the majority of the carries this game. I worked as hard as I could this week in practice.”
Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 745-2112.