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For Gators, Vandy requires vigilance Saturday

Matt Zemek

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Most of us really like to sleep, but we know that we can’t sleep too much, especially when important work must be done.

This is the reality facing the Florida Gators before they go to Vanderbilt Stadium to play the Commodores this coming Saturday.

Florida’s Week 7 foray to Nashville offers a classic setup for an ambush of the Alligators. All the ingredients are there.

11 a.m. start? Check.

Reeling opponent? Check.

Post-LSU hangover? Check?

Pre-Georgia look-ahead? Check.

This game is being played at brunchtime, and it fittingly has a massive buffet table laden with temptations, the main one being to sleep through a game, thinking Vanderbilt will be no problem.

“Hey, we handled LSU up front!”

“Hey, the Cocktail Party is gonna be HUGE this year!”

“Hey, it’s gonna be a quiet stadium in the morning, the least intimidating road environment we will play in all season!”

19- and 20-year-old males will think these thoughts. It’s not wrong to think these or any other thoughts — thoughts aren’t actions, and thoughts aren’t indicators of any person’s moral reality. The problem comes when thoughts get transferred into ACTIONS. That is the danger Dan Mullen and his staff face heading into the state of Tennessee for the second time this year.

Sleep is not for the weak — athletes need ample sleep to boost performance and keep their minds fresh — but sleeping through a game is the sign of a weak team. Florida needs to show it has become strong enough to avoid both a post-victory hangover (LSU) and a pre-showdown look-ahead (Georgia). Mature teams take care of business in situations such as this one. The Gators need to prove to themselves and Mullen that they are ready to put on the big V of vigilance against Vandy.

Florida fans know this game could become thorny, but UF’s players might not If Mullen wants to impress upon his players the point that this game is not to be taken for granted, he can speak from personal experience on the matter.

In 2006, Mullen’s first of two national championship teams at Florida barely got out of Nashville alive. The Gators slopped their way through an inelegant 25-19 win. Vanderbilt finished 4-8 that season, but it didn’t play like a 4-8 team that day. The Gators nearly had their dreams ruined. Michigan and USC dearly wish VU had scored seven more points that day.

That 2006 game — in which Mullen participated as an Urban Meyer assistant — is just one of a few examples of great Florida teams coming to Vanderbilt and riding the struggle bus. Vanderbilt doesn’t just bother Florida at home in most seasons. The more particular insight to gain from this brief study of history is that Vanderbilt bothers the BEST Florida teams.

It happened to a modest degree in 1994, when an SEC champion Gator team managed just 24 points. It happened to a much bigger degree in 2012, when Will Muschamp’s one high-quality roster led by only a touchdown, 24-17, late in the fourth quarter before a long Jeff Driskel run sealed the win with 2:20 remaining.

Even the 1996 national championship team, as insanely talented as it was on both sides of the ball, got roped into a messy and tense battle with the Commodores. Florida played what was easily its worst game of that national title season in Nashville. Losing to Florida State was disappointing, but the 1996 Gators played far worse against Vanderbilt. The Commodores are pesky against Florida, and the Gators — even when they are good — often fail to lock in and bring the hammer.

No, this doesn’t happen all the time in Nashville. Florida has thumped VU with good teams — in 1998, 2000 and 2008 — but UF’s track record in terms of playing well against the Dores on the road has been inconsistent.

Mullen will tell his players a million different times to not be complacent or sleepy against Vanderbilt. Mere talk about staying focused might not do the trick.

A history lesson involving some of Florida’s best and most accomplished teams — especially 1996 and 2006 — might give Mullen a better way to wake up his players before a contest which has “ambush” written all over it.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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