Auburn, AL – Auburn owns a 25-8-1 home record all-time ranked Tigers hope to add to that impressive ledger when the Gators come to town this weekend.
Florida opened the season with four consecutive victories under the guidance of first-year head coach Will Muschamp. Unfortunately for the Gators, the schedule has been brutal recently and they have been unable to hang with the SEC's elite teams. After falling to second-ranked Alabama two weeks ago by a 38-10 final, Muschamp's group dropped a 41-11 decision to top-ranked LSU last weekend. With that defeat, Florida fell to 3-9 in school history when facing the nation's No. 1 team.
"We've got a bunch of guys in that locker room that are hurting right now as well as us, and we've just got to get better," said Muschamp after the most recent setback.
As for Auburn, it is also coming off a rather lopsided loss, as the team fell to SEC foe Arkansas by a 38-14 final last weekend. That defeat halted a modest two-game win streak for the Tigers, who are now 4-2 overall and 2-1 in league play.
"We did all the things tonight, all the classic things, that lead to losing," said head coach Gene Chizik after last weekend's loss. "We turned the ball over on the road, dropped balls, guys who were wide open and we can't hit them, the ball going through guys' hands. We are going to move forward and learn from our mistakes and not let this game beat us twice."
Auburn owns a 42-38-2 overall series lead over Florida, which includes wins in each of the last two meetings.
The Florida offense has major injury concerns right now, as John Brantley missed last week's game with an ankle injury and will be out against Auburn as well. Backup signal caller Jeff Driskel and star RB Jeff Demps also have ankle injuries that may keep them out this weekend, and even if they can play they figure to be hobbled.
Freshman QB Jacoby Brissett was forced into action against LSU last weekend, and considering the strength of the Tigers' defense, the young player was almost certain to fail. He threw for just 94 yards and was intercepted twice in the ugly affair. Chris Rainey was held in check as well, as the Gators finished with a mere 213 total yards and nine first downs.
In part because the UF offense couldn't move the ball, the Gator defense spent nearly 36 minutes on the field. The unit yielded 453 total yards, permitting more than 200 yards both on the ground and through the air.
"Defensively, too many big plays and penalties killed us in the game," said Muschamp. "We've got to get better on the line of scrimmage. We wore out as the game wore on, but we didn't force turnovers."
Overall this season, UF is generating 30.3 ppg and 380.3 total ypg, but maintaining that level of production without Brantley, and possibly Demps, seems highly unlikely. Rainey clearly needs to touch the ball as much as possible, as he has rushed for 467 yards and added another 245 yards as a receiver.
Opponents are positing 19.2 ppg and 291.0 total ypg against a Florida defense that has played far better for much of the season than it did last week. The Gators are tough against the run, permitting 3.4 ypc, and 10 sacks have been notched.
Prepared to challenge that Florida defense is an Auburn squad that averages 27.8 ppg and 374.7 total ypg. The Tigers are paced by a ground attack that musters 204.0 ypg at a clip of 4.8 ypc. Michael Dyer leads the team with 679 rushing yards and eight scores, while quarterback Barrett Trotter has thrown nine touchdown passes. Still, Trotter has room for improvement, as he is completing a modest 56 percent of his passes and has tossed six interceptions. His top receiver is Emory Blake, who has 19 catches for 333 yards and four scores.
Dyer exploded for a 55-yard touchdown run in the first quarter against Arkansas last week, and freshman quarterback Kiehl Frazier added a seven-yard scoring scamper in that opening frame as well. Unfortunately for the Tigers, they didn't score a single point over the final 45 minutes of the contest. Trotter completed just 6-of-19 passes for 81 yards with one interception, and Frazier was picked off twice. The offensive line struggled mightily with sloppy play and mental errors.
"Really, what stands out to me is we had 5-6 holding penalties and we couldn't overcome the momentum," said Auburn offensive coordinator Gus Malzahn. "We still have to find ways to have passing yards. When they stack the box, we have to find a way to do it."
Auburn surrendered 438 total yards and five touchdowns to the Arkansas offense last week, a disappointing effort to say the least. The Tigers came up with just one takeaway and were off balance for much of the contest. They are now allowing 29.2 ppg and 439.5 total ypg, numbers that simply must improve.