In a defensive-fueled affair, No. 10 Florida topped No. 7 Auburn 24-13 in front of nearly 91,000 fans in The Swamp on Saturday afternoon in wild, turnover-filled game. Gators forced four turnovers -- including three interceptions from true freshman quarterback Bo Nix -- to stymie an Tigers offense that seemed to find its stride under Gus Malzahn last week.
Running back Lamical Perine iced the game midway through the fourth quarter when he took off on an 88-yard touchdown run for the game's final score. That complemented a career day from wide receiver Freddie Swain, who caught six balls for 146 yards and the game's first touchdown.
Gators QB Kyle Trask finished 19-of-31 passing for 234 yards and two touchdowns against one of the best defenses in the nation, though he did have three sack fumbles on the day. Luckily for him and Florida, the defense was able to negate many of the offense's miscues over the course of the contest. To make things even more impressive, Trask had his knee rolled up midway through the second quarter but returned after a short trip to the locker room and brief appearance from backup Emory Jones.
Florida moves to 6-0 (3-0 SEC) with the win, while Auburn drops to 5-1 (2-1 SEC).
What did we learn? Let's break it down.
1. Florida's defense can keep it in the national picture: Let's get this out of the way right now … Florida's offense needs a lot of fine-tuning. Luckily for Mullen, his defense is going to give him plenty of time to tune it up. The Gators held Auburn to 269 total yards, 3.6 yards per carry and dominated the line of scrimmage from the outset. No. 1 running back JaTarvious Whitlow was consistently stuffed at or behind the line of scrimmage, and Nix was clearly uncomfortable for the entire game. This is exactly what Florida needed to see.
With Trask now entrenched under center, it needs the defense to play like this if it wants to stay in the College Football Playoff race. The running game has been suspect all season, and was hampered for the most part on Saturday. The passing game was inconsistent with Franks under center, but has been more stable under Trask's leadership. Mullen building trust with Trask -- especially in big games like the one Saturday -- is key to the future of this season's Gators. Still, Trask must get the fumbling under control. He has coughed up five balls in three games, including three against Auburn.
2. Auburn is nowhere close to being a title contender: Nix had one good game through the air. Just one. It came last week against Mississippi State, and suddenly the Tigers became the darling of the college football world. They never should have been. They're the same team that they were last year. The offensive line is suspect, the running game struggles to get going, the quarterback play is erratic, and the defense is elite. But elite defenses can't hold up all game, every game, even with Derrick Brown dominating the line of scrimmage.
Nix might have a bright future, but he forced too many balls on Saturday -- especially in the end zone after the Auburn offense showed life late in the third quarter in what wound up an interception by Donovan Stiner, one of three Nix picks. His timing was off, his decision-making was slow, and he clearly got rattled by the crowd in The Swamp when it mattered most.
Nix didn't get help from Malzahn, though. His play-calling has been predictable all season long, and Florida defensive coordinator Todd Grantham was one (or three) steps ahead every single drive. Malzahn took over play-calling duties after a futile season last season and promised to kick start the offense. He hasn't. It's the same playbook and plan that it has always been, which works when the players execute. A porous offensive line, inexperienced quarterback and questionable running game makes that either said (or written) than done.
3. Sweet revenge for Perine: Speaking of Perine, the Theodore, Alabama, native famously made it known that Auburn didn't recruit him because he was "too slow." He didn't look slow when he was running 88 yards down the Florida sideline away from Auburn's entire defense to score the game-clinching touchdown midway through the fourth quarter. It was the longest Florida running score since Emmitt Smith ran 96 yards against Mississippi State in 1988.
It wasn't just revenge for Perine, it was the most important aspect of the game for Florida moving forward. They had 5.5 sack-adjusted rushing yards per play on Saturday against an Auburn defense that has been rock solid against the run all season. Not to mention, the Gators offensive line has been relatively awful all year. Does the long run skew that average just a bit? Of course. But wearing down a tough defense to the point where a player who's "too slow" runs away to ice it says a lot about Perine and Florida.
4. Mullen makes a statement: The second-year coach of the Gators already made a statement to an extent. After all, a 10-win season and a New Year's Six bowl appearance in his first year at the helm is more than enough to entrench him with the Gator Nation after all that they've been through. This game was different, though. It felt old-school Florida from the Steve Spurrier days. The Swamp rocked like it did when Tim Tebow running and throwing up and down the field. The crowd had Auburn rattled from the moment that the offense took the field.
College football needs Florida to be great again. More importantly, the SEC East needs Florida to be great again. Georgia is already a monster, and it has solidified itself as a national title contender for going on three years. Florida has been playing catch up since 2010, and that process got accelerated with a win that will resonate across the college football world.
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