No wide receiver duo in the SEC has combined for more receiving yards this season than Vanderbilt’s Chris Boyd and Jordan Matthews.
Saturday, they expect No. 4 Florida to make them earn every inch.
The Gators (5-0, 4-0) play a 4-3 defense that loads the box to stop the run. But they also press on the outside with their cornerbacks, attempting to eliminate the short passes.
“There is really no gimmies,” coach James Franklin said. “There is no formations, there’s no personnel groups where you line up and say, ‘We have an advantage here.’ Or we can throw the hitch and they’re just going to allow us to throw the hitch and not give up the big play. That’s not their philosophy.”
Instead, when the Gators come to Vanderbilt Stadium (5 p.m., ESPNU), they’ll challenge the Commodores (2-3, 1-2) to complete “low percentage” passes down the field.
So far, Boyd and Matthews have proven they can make the tough catches.
Matthews, a junior, leads the league with 35 receptions, which have gone for 486 yards. Only Cobi Hamilton of Arkansas has more yards (677). Boyd, a sophomore, has 18 catches for 368 yards. Together they’ve caught 53 passes — just one behind the Tennessee duo of Justin Hunter and Cordarelle Patterson and the Missouri pair of Marcus Lucas and T.J. Moe.
Last year both Boyd and Matthews caught touchdowns against the Gators. Matthews set career-highs with nine catches and 170 yards. He matched that personal-best last weekend against Missouri with nine receptions for 91 yards.
Posting big numbers against the Florida secondary this year has been hard to do. The Gators rank fourth in the SEC in passing defense (180.2 yards per game) and are led cornerback Jaylen Watkins, who has seven pass breakups and two interceptions.
To be successful against formations like Florida’s, Franklin says his receivers must win the jump ball situations or be “unbelievably fast” to get past the defensive back.
“At this level the players are much more physical and faster,” Boyd said. “They’ve been doing it for a while so you have to have a plan. You have to have counter moves and you’ve got to be ready to win every time because you never really know what you’re going to get.”
While the 6-foot-3 Matthews has drawn most of the attention, Boyd has snagged highlight grabs as well. Against Missouri, the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder went up and hauled in a 40-yard pass from Jordan Rodgers that set up a field goal in the fourth quarter.
He made an even more spectacular grab earlier in the game, which led to Vanderbilt’s first touchdown. Draped by a defender, Boyd leapt and made a one-handed catch as he fell to the ground for a 29-yard pickup.
“It was one of those balls that was kind of tough to catch,” Boyd said. “I saw it leave his hands so I knew it was coming to me. But it got to the point where it was in the lights so I couldn’t really find it until the end. I stuck my hand out there and I’m glad I held onto it.”
“Me too,” defensive tackle Rob Lohr chimed in with a smile.
• Rodgers improving: In the last two games, Jordan Rodgers completed 57 percent of his passes for 400 yards and just one interception.
That lone turnover came Saturday when Franklin said Rodgers tried to make a throw to the back shoulder of the receiver but left it low and short for an interception. Rodgers’ reaction to the play impressed Franklin. He came to the sideline and explained what happened. He shook off the mistake and completed seven of his final 10 passes.
“That’s interesting because it shows he had some adversity, we came to the sideline, we talked about it and he was able to move on,” Franklin said. “To me that shows maturity, that shows growth.”
Even so, Franklin didn’t announce Rodgers as his indefinite starter. Since benching Rodgers after the Northwestern game, Franklin has settled on a starter based on who has a better week of practice.
“We’re going to stay status quo,” he said on Monday.
• Kent honored: Punter Richard Kent was named the SEC’s co-special teams player of the week, sharing the honor with South Carolina returner Ace Sanders.
Kent, a senior from Marietta, Ga., placed two punts inside the 10-yard line and only one was returned — for three yards. His six-punt average of 45.2 yards matches his season average, which is the fifth-best in the SEC.
• Freshmen playing: Franklin shed another redshirt last weekend when he put in Jake Sealand.
The middle linebacker joins running back Brian Kimbrow, defensive end Caleb Azubike and linebacker Darreon Herring as true freshman to get on the field this fall.
Sealand made a forgettable debut on a kickoff return in the first quarter. He was flagged for an illegal block, negating a 20-yard return by Kimbrow. But Franklin went back to the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Sealand and he spelled starter Chase Garnham at one point in the fourth quarter. Sealand, a native of Tucker, Ga., made his first career tackle and is listed second on the depth chart this week.
“He works really hard. He’s an extremely intelligent player and has really natural leadership skills,” Franklin said. “He’s been itching to do this all year long. It wasn’t really a long conversation. ... That was a spread game, that was a speed game and he is a quickness player. So that played to his strengths. I thought he handled it well.”
• Game time: Vanderbilt’s home game against Auburn (1-4, 0-3) on Oct. 20 will start at 11:21 a.m. and will air on the SEC Network (Channel 14).