No escape from penalty plague

The pre-game checklist heavily favored Florida. There was the rowdy home field advantage that has been “The Swamp”, playing an Auburn team that had shown plenty of weaknesses, and the overall awareness that there might be something in the air after USF began the college football weekend by taking down a top five team. Just as it had a week ago against Ole Miss, Florida inspired Auburn by assisting them with the tools they would need to stay in the game and this time it cost them dearly. The Tigers trotted back to the Plains with a 20-17 victory on the final play of the game.

Florida ranks 117th out of 119 Division I schools with penalties per game. (They are Division I schools- Bowl Subdivision undoubtedly is long for BS)

In recent weeks, a young Florida football team had been warned of the dangers that awaited them if they failed to avoid costly penalties and continued on their present course rather than focus on correcting them. Once again, the yellow flags flew to the turf and this time they proved to play a key role in the Gators demise at the hands of western division rival Auburn.

Just as they had in recent weeks, at times those flags served to temporarily halt Florida’s momentum. The difference tonight was that Auburn was able to take full advantage of them, while the Gators were unable to overcome themselves. Now, penalties certainly weren’t the sole reason Florida lost to Auburn, but they didn’t help a group so heavy on youth that hopefully learned a valuable lesson that head coach Urban Meyer has stated must be corrected in recent press conferences.

The first half was ugly from the Florida perspective. The Gators were shut out in a half for the first time since the South Carolina game in 1992. Wasn’t this supposed to be the wide open attack that was among the greatest shows on earth?

No disrespect intended, but many other factors besides the efforts of the Tigers contributed to the Gators inability to score a point. And penalties were certainly one of them. Florida was flagged seven times tonight, four in the first half. And those first half penalties were costly, very costly. They stripped the Gators of any momentum. Auburn took whatever was given and usually made the most of it, hanging around and doing just what was needed to escape with a tough SEC road win. 

Brandon James took the Gators opening kickoff to the Auburn 43 only to watch that excellent field position wasted.  Florida faced a third and five from their own 48 yard line when tackle Carlton Medder was saddled with a false start penalty that pushed the Gators back five yards.

Result: Rather than play from a 3rd and five, the Gators now faced a third and 10 from their own 43 yard line. Quarterback Tim Tebow missed connecting with Jarred Fayson on the slant and the Gators were forced to punt.

The Florida defense then got off to a fast start or so it seemed. Defensive end Derrick Harvey sacked Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox for a nine yard loss on the Tigers second play from scrimmage. Auburn was forced to punt two plays later, but Jamar Hornsby was flagged when he ran into punter Ryan Shoemaker. The play gave the Tigers offense new life at the 28 yard line and sucked the life out of the Gators first series effort. 

Result: The Tigers regained possession and promptly rattled off a 14 play, 86 yard drive to take a 7-0 lead. The Auburn bench, defense, and fans fed off of this early momentum.

James once again got Florida into good field position with a 31 yard return to their own 38 yard line. On the following possession, Tebow found Riley Cooper for a nine yard pass along the right sideline on first down as the Gators set up shop again. Tebow was stuffed at the liune of scrimmage for no gain on second down. However, offensive guard Maurkice Pouncey moved before the snap of the ball on the third and one play.

Result: The Gators faced a third and five play. Tebow’s pass to Kestahn Moore near the sideline went for no gain. Once again, the offense failed to move the chains and were forced to punt. 

Dustin Doe popped an Auburn running back who was unable to come up with Brandon Cox’s pass. And Auburn lineman foolishly shoved Doe before an official and drew a personal foul. However, Doe and Spikes pushed back and drew a personal foul flag of their own.

Result: The penalty would have driven Auburn back to their own seven yard line with Florida fans in the south end zone giving them an awful time. With the offsetting penalties, the Tigers maintained possession at the 22. Auburn was able to move the ball to midfield before Cox was sacked for a seven yard loss. Ryan Shoemaker’s 49 yard punt pinned the Florida offense back to their own 17 yard line.

With time running down in the first half and the Gators trailing 14-0, Florida mounted a 43 yard drive from their own 20 yard line to the Auburn 37. Moore hauled in a Tebow pass in the flat for three yards. True freshman Maurkice Pouncey wiped out an Auburn defender after the whistle had blown the play dead and was flagged for a personal foul.

Result: With just over one minute to play in the half, the ball was moved back to the 49 yard line and gave the Gators a 2nd and 22 to convert. Tebow connected with Louis Murphy and Percy Harvin to move the ball back to the 37 yard line. Tebow then hit Murphy on the sideline. He juked an Auburn defender and moved to the 28 before he was stripped of the football and the Tigers’ Eric Broack recovered. Auburn was comfortable sitting on the ball to run out the clock and went into the locker room with a 14-0 lead and a heavy dose of momentum.

Florida has always been a heavily penalized team. Teams that play really fast are usually heavily penalized. The Southeastern Conference has also earned a reputation of average to poor officiating. Two top five teams, LSU and Southern Cal also find themselves near the bottom of the national rankings with regards to penalties.

Regardless, the Gators must stop shooting itself in the foot. The youth of the Florida team, especially with a defense that is trying to find itself makes it awfully difficult to overcome penalties against quality opposition. Good football teams will always take advantage of that and the schedule certainly doesn’t get any easier for the Gators.