NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - On a night where the Florida Gators appeared ripe for an upset, they managed to run away from it. More specifically, it was sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel who dodged it and darted past it.
Driskel rushed for 177 yards and three touchdowns to lead the No. 4 Gators to a 31-17 win over pesky and persistent Vanderbilt on Saturday night before a sellout crowd of 40,350 at Vanderbilt Stadium.
The victory moves UF to 6-0 for the first time (and 5-0 in the SEC) since 2009. The Commodores, who were hoping to pull off a signature victory, fall to 2-4 and 1-3.
"Very happy to get the win," UF coach Will Muschamp said. "Going on the road in this league, it's tough to go on the road and continue to win. Our guys are proving they can do that.
"Jeff had an outstanding night running the football. They lost a lot of containment on him in the running game. His legs create a lot of things for our offense."
His legs created a victory Saturday night.
Driskel's 177 yards rushing is a UF record for a quarterback. He blew past Tim Tebow, who rushed for 166 yards in a win over Ole Miss in 2007, the year he won the Heisman Trophy.
"They told me that right after the game. That's an honor," he said. "I never thought about (breaking Tebow's record) until you guys brought it up. Not at all."
His run into the record book saved the Gators on this night.
He had touchdown runs of 37, 13 and 70 yards — and was untouched on all three plays after faking a handoff to tailback Mike Gillislee, who was coming off a 146-yard rushing performance against LSU.
Driskel's 70-yard TD sprint with 2:20 left in the game sealed the victory, coming only seconds after Vanderbilt kicked a 22-yard field goal to draw within seven, 24-17.
"They were keying on Gillislee all night, which they should," Driskel said. "He's had a great season. When two or three guys go for him (on the zone read), it opens up lanes.
"We had great blocking from the receivers and fullbacks and tight ends. It was a full team effort. We kept running the same play and they didn't really make adjustments, so we kept going to it.
"If something is working, keep going with it. That's what we did. I don't think (I was touched on the TD runs). They were keying on Gillislee and we were getting great perimeter blocking. I could kind of walk in on some of them."
The Gators rushed for 326 yards. Driskel attempted only 20 passes, completing 11 for only 77 yards. UF had 403 total yards of offense to Vandy's 363.
The Gators averted the upset with big, scoring plays from Driskel and some huge plays on special teams.
UF hit a two-point conversion after the Gators' first touchdown to take an 8-7 lead early in the second quarter. In the second half, defensive end Earl Okine blocked a 44-yard field goal attempt, and a few minutes later, wide receiver Solomon Patton sprinted 54 yards on a speed sweep on a fake punt to set up a touchdown that gave the Gators an 18-7 lead with 4:31 to play in the third quarter.
"I felt good about it all week," Muschamp said of the fake punt call. "We've had it in for a couple of weeks. I got tired of practicing it. I wanted to run it. We got to the edge and Jon Bostic made a fantastic block and Frankie Hammond made a fantastic block and Solomon Patton does that speed sweep very well. We utilized his strength.
"We felt good about that and the extra point. We've been working on it and haven't had the numbers, (but this time we did)."
The fake punt call came on a fourth-and-five from the Gators' own 43-yard line. Fullback Trey Burton took the snap, started to run to the right, then handed off to Patton coming the other way. With the help of Bostic and Hammond, he quickly hit the edge — and hit one of the biggest plays of the game.
"I was excited (when it was called)," Patton said. "Every time they call a punt on the sideline, I'm just right there tuned in to see if they're going to call it. They finally called it and I tried to make something happen."
The Gators also got a huge special team play from wide receiver Andre Debose, whose 60-yard kickoff return set up a 26-yard Caleb Sturgis field goal with 5:22 left in the game to give the Gators a 24-14 lead.
Florida managed to rush for more than 300 yards despite playing most of the game without three starters on the offensive line — guard James Wilson, center Jon Harrison and tackle Xavier Nixon.
Wilson injured his eye in practice earlier in the week and did not make the trip. Harrison injured his arm in the first half and Nixon left with what Muschamp called an upper body injury.
Wilson is expected to return early this week, Muschamp said. Harrison and Nixon will be evaluated early in the week.
Driskel threw for less than 100 yards, but they didn't need his arm Saturday night. They needed his legs — and he delivered.
"We were moving people (up front with the offensive line)," Muschamp said. "They were feast or famine up front defensively. When you stunt and do as much as they do you're going to eventually hit them on some things.
"That's what happened late in the game with Jeff coming out of the back end (for the 70-yard TD run)."
It was an impressive night for Driskel and the ground game, and was another tough SEC road win where the Gators had to come from behind.
"We're going to do what it takes to win games," Muschamp said. "We're doing what it takes to win games. We're not worrying about stats and getting fancy."
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)