Rapid Reaction: Swamped! No. 10 Gators send message with late KO over Auburn
Both teams made mistakes.
Florida made one more play.
Ultimately that was the difference Saturday as the No. 10 Gators outlasted No. 7 Auburn 24-13 at The Swamp.
The victory puts the Gators firmly in the Playoff conversation. The loss doesn’t derail Auburn’s dreams, but given what lies ahead, it calls into question whether the Tigers can survive the rest of the season unscathed and still make it to Atlanta.
Those were the stakes Saturday. That’s why GameDay showed up, why CBS chose it as the game of the week.
Both defenses were as advertised, too, making every yard, first down and point earned. Each side forced multiple turnovers, none costlier than Bo Nix’s interception in the end zone late in the 3rd quarter that preserved Florida’s 17-13 lead.
Auburn’s defense immediately matched it, though, Derrick Brown produced his second fumble off a Kyle Trask strip-sack. Once again, Auburn couldn’t capitalize, and the next time Florida got its hands on the ball, Lamical Perine delivered the knockout blow.
Perine, a bruiser who specializes in yards after contact, broke through a tackle and ran 88 yards for the sealing touchdown with 9 minutes left the 4th quarter. Florida had fewer than 40 yards rushing to that point. No matter.
That sequence — opportunities created and missed — carried over from a sloppy opening half.
Auburn forced 3 turnovers in the first quarter but didn’t capitalize. That’s what they’ll lament on the plane ride home. The Tigers turned the first two into a pair of field goals. Brown scooped up a Trask fumble for the 3rd takeaway and was heading toward the end zone but wore down and tripped at about the 40. The Gators wiped out that threat when Shawn Davis made a spectacular 1-handed interception off Bo Nix. Davis returned it 41 yards to give Florida a short field.
Two plays later, Trask hit Josh Hammond on a short crossing route for a 13-yard TD and 14-6 lead.
Trask had 2 TD passes on balls that spent a combined 8 yards in the air. (His 1st was a slant Freddie Swain caught, split two defenders and raced 64 yards for a TD.)
The beauty was in Dan Mullen’s design. Both receivers were matched up against slower Auburn linebackers. Trask knew it and took advantage.
Not every decision Mullen made worked, however.
The Gators faked a punt on 4th-and-3 at their own 34. Auburn read it, reacted and tackled Tommy Townsend to force a turnover. The decision was puzzling on several fronts, including the fact Auburn had just 1 first down on offense, so there was no need to gamble.
Given a short field, Nix threw a 31-yard TD to Seth Williams on the next play to draw Auburn within 14-13.
It looked even worse for the Gators on the next play when Marlon Davidson crashed into Kyle Trask’s planted left knee, temporarily knocking him out of the game.
Emory Jones came on and helped set up Evan McPherson’s field goal to make it 17-13.
Auburn closed the half with 2 turnovers and 2 first downs. Florida moved the ball a bit better but had the 3 turnovers.
It was clear whichever offense cleaned up its mistakes would bolster its Playoff hopes.
Auburn couldn’t. Nix finished a frustrating 11-for-27. He missed open receivers and scoring opportunities. He took costly sacks. He threw 3 interceptions, including the back-breaker in the end zone when Auburn had a chance to reclaim the lead.
Florida’s offense did just enough.
The Gators won’t get long to celebrate. A date at undefeated LSU looms next week. But they took a huge step in proving they’re every bit the Playoff contender Mullen envisioned.
Having fun yet, Gators fans?