6-1 Outstanding, But Gators should be 7-0

The Florida Gators had a great chance to be perfect through seven games. But the team that had been a fast-finishing squad all season, chose a Saturday night in Auburn, Alabama to go the final 34:10 without a single point.

The Gators had the game in good control with a 17-8 lead but a night of pathetic tackling, lousy special teams and a replay official from Mars combined to hand the Gators their first loss of 2006.

That’s all I ‘m going to say about the replay non-reversal of perhaps the most obvious miscall of an incomplete pass/fumble I’ve seen. Gator fans don’t need to harp on that single call because the Gators did more than enough other things to cost themselves a great opportunity for a win.

Last 4:10 of First Half Huge

One thing this team has done all year long is finish the first half on a high note. Late scores have been hugely important in several Gator wins, but tonight it was an Auburn drive late in the half that meant a great deal.

After Tim Tebow ran 16 yards for a score to put the Gators up 17-8 Florida looked like it was in great shape. The Gator offense had been unstoppable and the defense had done enough in the red zone to keep Auburn from scoring. But with halftime looming the Gators inexplicably played softer than a roll of Charmin. A short pass against a soft zone plus some late arriving tacklers meant a 17-yard gain. Then with Cox obviously checking off to a running play, Florida offered up some dreadful tackling as Brad Lester rambled for 34 yards. Auburn settled for its third field goal of the half and the score was 17-11. Still momentum had changed right before the half.

Offense Disappears

In the second half the Gators offense was nowhere to be found for the most part. It started with an incomplete pass on a roll out when Chris Leak could have run for eight-to-twelve yards. Florida did get a first down, but wasted a timeout in the process. Two plays later Eric Wilbur drops a snap then tries to punt with his left foot and Auburn had a touchdown. That put the Tigers up 18-17, but there was still plenty of time to go.

The Gators managed just one first down on the next two possessions, while Auburn continued to run the clock and shorten the game. Florida eventually had the ball on its own ten yard line early in the fourth quarter.

Crucial Drive Ends in Bizarre Fashion

The Gators found some rhythm on offense and quickly got into scoring range. Chris Leak hits Dallas Baker for 31 yards and Bubba Caldwell went 28 on an option play putting the Gators in field goal range.

The Gators had first and ten on the Auburn 13 and it seemed certain Florida was about to take the lead. A pass to Tate Casey got six yards and Tim Tebow ran for one more. Then came the play of the night. No matter what the officials ruled, Chris Leak simply can NOT let that happen. Under pressure he had two sensible choices: take the sack and settle for a 32 yards field goal try or throw it out of the end zone. Instead it appeared Florida’s quarterback tried to flip the ball to Casey (who wasn’t looking). That turnover was, simply, the difference between winning and losing.

It was additionally punitive for the Gators because due to the inept clown in the replay booth Florida Coach Urban Meyer had to risk a time out in order to get a review. Some review. About ten seconds later the call was upheld and the Gators were in trouble.

Bottom Line: It was a Strange Night

Auburn scored 27 points and the Gator defense did not allow a touchdown. Florida did not punt in the first half, but Wilbur had his first effort blocked in the second marking two straight punts that had been swatted away by Gator opponents. Auburn added a late touchdown on a failed hook and ladder type play.

Florida scored 17 points on its first four possessions (one of which lasted just one play) and yet never scored again. The Gators, who had dominated the second half all season (86-to-16), were outscored 16-zip in the final 30 minutes. Only four Gators caught passes, and none of them was named Cornelius (Ingram or Jemalle). The Gators ran just 45 offensive plays, though they average 63 plays a game.

A Little Perspective, Please

When the season began, I told every Gator club I spoke to and everyone who reads this space that I thought Florida’s toughest game all year would be at Auburn. While Auburn’s performance against Arkansas made this game seem less threatening, the bottom line is Auburn is still a very talented team and was a wounded club trying to salvage its season in the second half. Florida could not match their passion or intensity.

Just about everyone would have taken 6-and-1, 4-and-1 (SEC) to start the season and while this was a very winnable game that’s still a pretty good place to be. Florida should stay in the top ten and will be favored in the five remaining games. The Gators control their destiny in the SEC East and a trip to Atlanta is still in their control.

Normally you don’t like a week off after a loss like this, but not this time. Florida needs to heal up physically and re-charge mentally. And they need to realize that the next three weeks will determine if this is a special year or not.