In every college football game there are one or two impact players that can change the outcome. Vanderbilt is confident after a great win and looking for more. The Dores (2-2) are coming off a 31-30 overtime win at Western Kentucky, and return home to play host to the Florida Gators (3-1).
Here are three impact players from each team to watch for during the game.
#12 QB AUSTIN APPLEBY
It looks as if the senior transfer, Appleby will make his second straight start in Nashville. Starter Luke Del Rio (knee) has been practicing this week but head coach Jim McElwain has said his QB is “highly doubtful” to play.
Appleby looked in control in the first half last week. He has a big arm, and completed passes down field of 51, 43 and 36 yards, plus tossing three first half TDs. He is an able runner, but won’t crush you with his legs. Appleby was thrown off in the second half by all the pressure Tennessee put in his face. The moment looked too big for him, and he made poor decisions. He was sacked, threw an interception and nearly another as the Gators were routed. Vandy needs to apply pressure to force Appleby to improvise.
#81 WR ANTONIO CALLAWAY
Callaway is the most dangerous Gator on the field. He had catches of 51 and 43 yards last week on simple go-routes. Overall, he had four catches for 134 yards against Tennessee. For the season and his career, Callaway averages nearly 20 yards per catch.
He also serves as the team’s punt returner and has been able to help the Gators win field position. Last week, he had two costly mistakes with a fumbled punt inside the 5-yard line and a fair-catch on the 2-yards line. I wouldn’t expect Callaway to repeat those mistakes.
#31 CB JALEN TABOR
Tabor is considered one of the top cornerbacks going into the 2017 NFL Draft. He’s physical at the line of scrimmage and can make a play on the football. He had his second interception of the year last week against Tennessee.
After getting burned by the Vols, Tabor will be motivated to get back to his All-SEC level of play. He will challenge Vandy QB Kyle Shurmur to throw accurately into tight windows. Shurmur’s receivers, Kalija Lipscomb, Trent Sheffield and CJ Duncan, will need to be able to get separation from Tabor and the other Florida defensive backs.
#7 RB RALPH WEBB
The junior continues to impress people around the SEC. Webb carried the load last week at Western Kentucky with 95 yards rushing on 27 touches. His third touchdown on the day, on the last play of regulation, forced overtime. Webb still leads the conference in rushing yards (472) and is tied for the most rushing touchdowns in the SEC (5).
Head coach Derek Mason said this week that his team can’t only rely on Webb against Florida. And while they do need to be two-dimensional, the Commodores can’t forget the guy who is their workhorse.
#14 QB KYLE SHURMUR
Shurmur had his most impressive performance Saturday against Western Kentucky, and his team needs him to stay on that high note. The sophomore orchestrated the game-tying TD drive with ease, completing his first three passes for 58 yards, which led to Webb’s TD. Shurmur stayed poised in the overtime period and threw a TD to give Vandy the advantage.
The Gators will be the best defense Shurmur has seen, to date. They have defensive playmakers on every level, and before last week, Florida’s defense was the best in the country. Shurmur needs to be on-target Saturday, because a slightly inaccurate throw could turn into an interception against Florida.
#20 LB/S OREN BURKS
I said last week, Oren Burks will be on every “impact players” list I write for Vandy until he shows me otherwise. He makes plays on every level of the defense and Vandy needs more out of him. The Commodore defense has struggled with the different styles of offenses they’ve faced and rank next to last in the SEC.
Florida’s offense is more traditional with a power run game and downfield passing threats. The Gators also throw to their group of running backs, and Burks will be in charge of running them down. The defense may need to come up with big turnovers to keep Vandy hanging around. Burks is the guy to count on to create the play.