AUBURN, Ala. – Points were at a premium Saturday night at Jordan-Hare Stadium, as both Florida and Auburn struggled to move the ball behind inept offenses.
Both teams made quarterback changes in the second half, and Auburn’s simply worked better than the Florida’s, as Clint Moseley led the Tigers (5-2, 3-1 SEC) to a 17-6 win over the Gators (4-3, 2-3 SEC) with a crucial fourth-quarter touchdown drive to take control.
Florida had a chance to answer on its ensuing possession but opted to go for a 4th and 4 with kicker Caleb Sturgis out with an injury. The Gators failed to convert from the Tigers’ 16-yard line as quarterback Jeff Driskel overthrew Deonte Thompson.
“We had not moved the ball extremely well at that point, you kick a field goal it’s still a five-point game (and) you need a touchdown,” head coach Will Muschamp said. “You score then you go for two, it’s a tie ball game. That was the reason.”
Muffed punts were extremely costly for the Gators, as Chris Rainey dropped one late in the first quarter that Auburn eventually turned into a 25-yard touchdown pass from Barrett Trotter to DeAngelo Benton to take a 7-0 lead.
Robert Clark came in to field a punt with about three minutes remaining in the game, but he also muffed it to allow Auburn to take over and kick a field goal to extend the lead to 17-6, putting the game out of reach.
“Chris was gassed a little bit and was tired and had a hard time fielding a couple,” Muschamp said. “We put [Clark] back there. [Clark’s] been doing it all year for us and been very effective.”
Florida’s defense played well throughout the night, but seemed to tire late in the third quarter as the crowd of 87,451 roared to life.
Moseley completed a string of passes to help the Tigers march down the field, and Auburn scored the crucial touchdown on a 14-yard touchdown run by Onterrio McCaleb.
McCaleb darted around the left side of the line on the first play of the fourth quarter and outraced Florida’s safeties to the edge, toe-tapping the sideline as he raced in for the score that put Auburn up by eight points.
“They executed a nice pass versus quarters coverage,” Muschamp said. “Good execution on their part. We lost the edge, we didn’t crack replace outside on the touchdown run.”
Auburn managed to convert just 1-of-13 third-down attempts and threw for 123 yards on just seven completions. The Tigers were mostly kept in check on the ground, too, with leading rusher Michael Dyer finishing with a game-high 73 yards on 23 carries.
“We came out today, everybody was on their stuff,” said linebacker Jon Bostic, who finished with a game-high nine tackles and two tackles for a loss.
“Basically our thing all week was just line up and play,” Bostic said. “Everybody’s got to play their gap, because they do a lot of stuff. Pretty much everybody was on their assignments. We were pretty sound on defense.”
Florida was hampered by injuries offensively, though, and couldn’t generate anything consistently to put points on the board.
With starting quarterback John Brantley out for the second straight game with a lower leg injury, true freshman Jacoby Brissett picked up his second straight start.
Brissett played the first half and went 5-of-10 passing for 45 yards and one interception, before fellow true freshman Jeff Driskel took over in the second half. Driskel finished 9-of-18 passing for 75 yards. Both quarterbacks were sacked twice.
“We didn’t do enough to help our football team,” Muschamp said. “The more reps and the more turns those young [quarterbacks] get, they’re going to be really good football players. I’m excited about both of them. We need to continue to move forward.”
Florida was extremely banged up on the offensive side of the ball. Starting running back Jeff Demps didn’t dress for the game after playing in a limited capacity against LSU with an ankle injury.
Redshirt sophomore Andre Debose had his right ankle taped after Florida’s first series on offense and played sparingly through the rest of the game.
Left guard Dan Wenger left the game with an injury and returned to the sidelines on crutches and wearing a boot on his left foot.
Even running back Mike Gillislee, who Florida’s coaches said would get more carries in the run game this week, left the game limping at one point. He finished with just three carries for 16 yards, playing almost exclusively when the Gators ran the Wildcat.
On the defensive side of the ball, sophomore defensive end Ronald Powell didn’t make the trip after suffering an undisclosed injury against LSU.
Florida will have a chance to get some of those guys healthy with a bye next weekend before the Gators’ annual showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs in Jacksonville.
“The bye week I think will be beneficial for us,” wide receiver Frankie Hammond Jr. said. “We can get guys that we have banged up, get those guys back. We’ve got two weeks to prepare for Georgia.”