(T-G Photo by Jimmy Jones)
Florida came, conquered and flew back to Gainesville having hardly broken a sweat in a 42-14 win over Vanderbilt in front of a nationally-televised audience on Saturday night.
The win clinched the Southeastern Conference Eastern Division title for the second time in the past three years for the fifth-ranked Gators and insures that they will square off with Alabama in the SEC championship game.
The loss dropped the Commodores record to 5-4 overall and 3-3 in the SEC after they managed a paltry 264 yards of total offense despite running two more plays than their opponent in the game. Much of their yardage was compiled during garbage time, long after the Gator starters were pulled.
Meanwhile, Florida scored the first four times they touched the ball and ran up over 400 yards offensively.
It was a hapless showing on both sides of the ball for the Black and Gold.
It was not the same team that had grabbed the nation's attention with five straight wins and their highest national ranking in many years just a few scant weeks ago.
In fact, their offense has been rather anemic since turning the reins over to Mackenzi Adams, who has simply not gotten the job done. The redshirt junior has shown tendencies to have happy feet under pressure and to his credit is a pretty good scrambler, but his decision making while on the run is highly suspect.
On numerous occasions Saturday night he left the pocket and not only failed to make positive yardage but held onto the ball instead of heaving it out-of-bounds. On at least two occasions he threw across his body into the middle of the field into heavy traffic, prompting a heated sideline discussion between him and a member of the coaching staff.
His proclivity for holding onto the ball cost him physically when he was knocked from the game during one of his scrambles.
Senior quarterback Chris Nickson came into the game and led the Commodores on two scoring drives and appeared to bring a calmer influence and better command of the offense. It was not a surprise that he played well against the Gators.
Nickson has a history of playing well, especially against Florida. In his first year as a starter (2006) he earned offensive player of the week honors when he completed 27 passes for 298 yards and two touchdowns against the eventual national champions. He finished that season with 2,779 yards of total offense, the fourth best total in Commodore history.
I have seen nothing from the change in starters to convince me that Adams is capable of approaching those types of numbers.
Nickson is no doubt a more dynamic player than his counterpart -- much quicker out of the cuts and has proven that he can throw the football with the best of them.
Injuries and a short bout of inconsistent play have slowed him the past two seasons, but he is healthy now and is the Commodores best hope at returning their offense to credibility.
Time is running short on Vanderbilt's aspirations to play their way into bowl contention for the first time since the 80s.
Two of their three remaining games are on the road at Wake Forrest and Kentucky. Tennessee comes to Nashville with a big old chip on their shoulder, though that is not as scary as it once was.
Nickson may just be the offensive spark that they are missing. Trust his talent and let's find out. He has earned that right.
Jimmy Jones is a Times-Gazette sports writer. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.