Florida Football: Previewing the Auburn Game
After starting off the season with four consecutive wins, the Gators have struggled in their past two games. Facing the top two teams in the country is no easy feat, but the Gators got a good look of how far they are away from being elite again.
After consecutive beatdowns by Alabama and LSU, Florida will look to bounce back with a good showing at Auburn this Saturday.
Auburn is coming into the game off a loss to Arkansas, and is struggling through this season with a Cam Newton hangover, similar to the one Florida went through post-Tebow.
The game will be shown on ESPN at 7 p.m. on Saturday.
Here is how both teams will stack up.
Quarterback vs. Quarterback
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The Gators come into this game with more uncertainty at quarterback. Jacoby Brissett became the first quarterback in Florida history to take his first snap in his first start. Brissett had a very limited package for his first start and split quarterback duties with Trey Burton and a fair share of wildcat snaps with Chris Rainey.
Brissett's first game was all right, he wasn't the reason for the loss, and certainly did not do enough to win the game. All but 29 of his 94 passing yards came on one pass to Andre Debose, who after being pushed out of bounds was left as wide open as any receiver could be. Brissett will have another week to prepare and will go from facing the second-ranked defense in the SEC to the worst.
It is obvious that Brissett is behind as far as where this offense was and where it was going with Brantley under center. Charlie Weis brought in a very thick and complex playbook, each week that Brissett and fellow freshman Jeff Driskel get in practice will allow Weis to open the playbook up a little more.
Speaking of Jeff Driskel, the early favorite last week to start against LSU, the freshman was reported to have practiced today and tested the sprained ankle that kept him out of the game against LSU.
If Driskel can practice at full strength, it is likely that he could start this week at Auburn. Driskel won the backup quarterback job this fall for a reason, and if healthy, he should start this week.
Coach Will Muschamp also stated that Gator fans can expect to see more of Trey Burton and Chris Rainey taking snaps as long as the freshmen are under center.
Head coach Gene Chizik was not happy with the way his quarterbacks performed in the loss to Arkansas, but came out today and said junior Barrett Trotter will start this week. Trotter is 79 of 141 for 976 yards, nine touchdowns and six interceptions.
Trotter has drawn heat from Auburn fans, and he has looked lost and out of sync in the offense. Many fans have been calling for a change at quarterback and want to see freshman Kiehl Frazier made the starter.
Trotter had an abysmal game last week going six of 19 for 81 yards and an interception. Arkansas is ranked ninth in the SEC against the pass, and is also ninth in total defense.
Struggling against one of the lesser defenses in the conference does not bode well for the junior, as he will face a much better defense this week. Florida comes into the game with the fourth-best pass defense, and is the fifth-best total defense in the SEC.
The Gators will enter the game with one of two possible quarterbacks getting the start. As of now, only Trey Burton and Chris Rainey are assured of taking snaps this week while Driskel and Brissett battle it out in practice to see who will start.
Auburn comes in with the worst pass defense in the SEC, allowing 237 yards per game. Trotter looked terrible against a bad Arkansas pass defense, and he will look worse this week against the Gators.
Running Backs vs. Running Backs
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The running game has been a microcosm of the Gators football season. The four games that the Gators have run the ball successfully, they have won. When the running game is shut down, so are the Gators' chances of winning.
Chris Rainey, who has been the offensive MVP for the Gators so far this season, will be looking for a bounce-back game after only managing 56 yards rushing in his last two games.
Rainey will get a break from the two top-rated rush defenses he has had to face recently and will instead go against Auburn's second worst-rated rushing defense.
Auburn is giving up 201 rushing yards a game, with only Kentucky coming in with a worse rushing defense. Florida ran for over 400 yards against Kentucky.
With Jeff Demps dealing with an ankle injury that has limited his carries to only five the past two weeks, Mike Gillislee has emerged as a good changeup and a strong runner between the tackles.
Whether Demps can play this week or not, Gillislee will get his share of carries this week and provides a good mix of power running to Rainey's speed and elusiveness.
Auburn is led by their super sophomore, Michael Dyer who, along with Cam Newton, led the Tigers to a national championship last season. Dyer is having a very productive season rushing the ball 124 times for 679 yards and eight touchdowns.
Despite the struggles in the passing attack that has caused Auburn to be one-dimensional on offense, Dyer has carried the load this season.
He was a Heisman contender preseason, and will be about all the Gators can handle this week. After facing two powerful running attacks, Dyer will not allow the Gators a week off.
Auburn has the second-worst rushing defense in the SEC, but these stats are deceiving. In their first three games, Auburn gave up 798 rushing yards, an average of 266 yards per game. In their last three games, Auburn has allowed only 413 yards on the ground, an average of 137 yards per game.
This defense, which started off abysmally, is starting to hit its stride. On the other hand, the Gators have been manhandled on both offensive and defensive lines, allowing 464 yards on the ground and rushing for only 128.
Receivers vs. Receivers
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Halfway through the season and Florida still doesn't have a player listed at wide receiver with double-digit catches. While Chris Rainey, Trey Burton, and Jeff Demps have been a very big part of the passing attack, Florida needs their receiving corp to step up.
In the past two weeks, Andre Debose has seemingly tried to fill the void that has been the wide receivers role in Charlie Weis' offense. Debose has provided the Gators their only two touchdowns the past two games. He is a legitimate deep threat and should become a bigger part of this offense.
Rainey still leads the team in receptions (16), yards (245), and is tied for the most receiving touchdowns (2), while TE Jordan Reed is starting to find his place in the offense with 11 receptions.
The Gators will need to rely on their receivers to make catches and get open in order to help their young signal callers.
Auburn has spread the love as far as receptions go this season. They have four different receivers with double-digit receptions. Emory Blake has led the unit so far in receptions (19), yards (333) and touchdowns (4). Trotter sat out the game against Arkansas and the receiving corps had an abysmal game dropping passes.
If Blake is unable to go against Florida, Auburn will turn to their most sure-handed receiving threat Philip Lutzenkirchen. The tight end was not exempt from the dropped passes last week, dropping a pass on a crucial third down last week.
While Florida hasn't used their wide receivers as much as their running backs in the passing game, they still are a threat, and haven't had a problem with drops like Auburn has.
This was a very close grade and will swing one way or the other depending on is Blake can play and be effective on his injured ankle. Being listed as a game-time decision, the chances of him playing do not look promising.
O-Line vs. O-Line
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The Gators offensive line took a big step back against Alabama. Then they took another big step back against LSU. Their play the last two games has been for lack of a better word, offensive to watch.
Before the last two games, the line had allowed only two sacks and allowed the offense to run for 1,036 yards an average of 259 yards a game.
Oh, what a difference the defenses of Alabama and LSU make. The line gave up four sacks and the running game was never a factor in either game. The line was manhandled and should be embarrassed after the way they have played of late.
Auburn's offensive line has played very well this season opening up running lanes for Dyer. They have allowed 13 sacks, which at first looks terrible, but many of those have come from poor quarterback play.
The Tigers suffered a major loss against Arkansas when their senior leader on the line, Jared Cooper, went down with an injury. Coach Chizik was less than optimistic about Cooper being able to play this week.
Chade Slade will fill in for Cooper in the meantime, but the redshirt freshman cannot match the play of Cooper, and the unit will have to step up their play around him.
Florida's offensive line should be playing with a chip on their shoulder after two awful performances back to back. That being said, the unit has not showed that they can play at a level against the top tier SEC opponents.
After watching the Gators line play the last two games, it doesn't matter who they are playing against, it is hard to give them an edge in this category. Even when Auburn will likely not be at full strength.
D-Line vs. D-Line
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Similar to the offensive line, the Gators defensive front has been dominated the past two games.
A stat that shows the struggles more than any other is strong Safety Matt Elam is second on the team in tackles (34). He is not getting those numbers by tackling receivers, Elam is racking up those numbers because Florida is allowing runners to get to the second level with ease.
The line was supposed to be a strength of Dan Quinn and Will Muschamp's new defensive scheme. With sophomores Dominique Easley, Sharrif Floyd and senior Jaye Howard causing pressure, it allowed Florida's young secondary the luxury of not having to cover receivers very long.
After causing a season-high four turnovers against Kentucky, the Gators have not forced a turnover since. It begins with the line and creating pressure on the quarterback, something the Gators haven't been able to do the past two games.
With that being said, the talent on the line is undeniable. Easley has one of the quickest first moves of any defensive lineman in the SEC, is leading the team in tackles for loss (5.5), and he has been an emotional leader on the field.
Jaye Howard is fourth on the team in tackles (27), and is playing the best football of his career in his final season.
The defensive front four couldn't stop a cold at the beginning of this season. They have improved their play every game this year.
Corey Lemonier is coming into his own as a pass rusher. The sophomore is leading the team in sacks (4) and tackles for loss (7). Lemonier had a sack and a forced fumble last week against Arkansas.
The Gators defensive line has been manhandled the last two games, but Auburn does not have a line like that of Alabama or LSU. While Auburn's unit has improved, it didn't have anywhere to go but up after the horrific start that they got off to this year.
Linebackers vs. Linebackers
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Jon Bostic have been the defensive MVP for the Gators to this point in the season. Bostic is leading the team in tackles (42), sacks (3), and is second on the team in tackles for loss (5). The junior middle linebacker has provided leadership on and off the field for the Gators defense.
Bostic has not been alone, Ronald Powell and Jelani Jenkins round out the Gators linebacking corps, and the trio have been instrumental in this defense and their success.
There have been some missed tackles on defense and that will kill any defense, but the Gators linebackers have provided help against the run game when the line is struggling and also are serviceable against the pass, especially Jenkins.
Like Florida, Auburn's linebacker have also struggled with some missed tackles. Auburn's linebackers have struggled keeping up with the passing game and defending quicker receivers on crossing routes and quick passes.
The unit does not get to the quarterback very well either, with only two sacks to the unit's credit.
The unit, along with the defensive line, was able to keep South Carolina running back Marcus Lattimore in check earlier this year. Stopping such a dominant back is no small feat and that should be praised.
Auburn has not been able to defend crossing routes or the middle of the field with any kind of consistency. This is an area that Florida will take advantage of.
Inability to cover the middle of the field or make tackles on short passes will give a young quarterback confidence if he is able to complete a couple of early passes.
Secondary vs. Secondary
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Florida's young secondary benefited from strong defensive line play early in the season. With the defensive line unable to create pressure the past two games, the youth in the secondary has been exposed slightly.
Sophomore Matt Elam assumed a leadership role on the team early on and his play has backed that up. Elam is second on the team in tackles (34) and leads the team in interceptions (2). Elam has been the Gators' best tackler in the secondary,whereas the cornerbacks have been suspect in that aspect.
Marcus Roberson has been a solid tackler as a freshman, but sophomores Cody Riggs and Jaylen Watkins have missed far too many tackles.
Even with all the youth and inexperience in the secondary, Florida still has the fourth-ranked defense against the pass in the SEC.
Last season the Auburn secondary was considered the weak link of a national championship team. This year there is a youth movement very similar to that of Florida going on in the Auburn secondary. Freshmen Jermaine Whitehead and Robinson Therezie represent the future of the Tigers secondary.
Senior Neiko Thorpe is the leader of this unit, leading the team in tackles (47) and interceptions (2).
Auburn has the worst passing defense in the SEC, allowing 237 yards through the air a game. While Florida's secondary has been somewhat suspect the past two games, they will fare better against Auburn and their fourth-worst passing attack in the SEC.
Special Teams vs. Special Teams
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Florida struggled on kick-return coverage against Alabama, but corrected their coverage issues and played much better against LSU.
As always, Florida is a threat to block a punt or kick and also to return one for a touchdown.
Caleb Sturgis is 13 of 14 kicking field goals and is perfect on his extra-point attempts, connecting on all 19 attempts.
The Tigers have the second-best kick return average of any team in the SEC. This has been an area of concern for the Gators and the field possession game will be crucial in this matchup.
Cody Parkey took over for the all-time scoring leader at Auburn, Wes Byrum. Parkey is seven of eight of his field goal tries and 20 of 21 on his extra-point attempts.
The only team that has a higher kick return yard average than Auburn is Alabama. Alabama torched the Gators on their kick returns, averaging 41 yards per return, and kept the Tide in good field position all game.
Auburn will benefit from starting in good field possession if they can exploit what the Tide were able to in the kicking game.
Success Against a Similar Opponent
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Florida and Auburn have one similar opponent this season, FAU. With a brand new, on campus stadium to pay for, the Owls took a beat down tour, earning $1.8 million to get pushed around by like likes of Florida, Auburn and Michigan State.
Florida opened the season against FAU, and came out on top 41-3.
The Gators dominated the game from the opening kickoff, which was returned for a touchdown, but called back for holding that happened nowhere near the play.
The Gators looked strong in all phases of the game.
Offensively, they totaled 468 yards, while the defense allowed 30 yards rushing on 30 attempts.
Auburn defeated FAU with relative ease, winning the contest 34-14.
Auburn played well amassing 172 yards through the air while rushing for 137 yards.
Defensively while the Tigers gave up over 100 yards on the ground, they held FAU to just 3.31 yards per carry. Auburn forced three interceptions along with three forced fumbles (none were recovered).
This outcome is obvious. Florida won by a bigger margin and dominated the game on both sides of the ball.
Coach vs. Coach
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Will Muschamp and his defense are facing a fork in the road. Will the Gators buy in and be more physical or will they continue to miss tackles and assignments?
Charlie Weis is presented with his own challenge. After senior quarterback John Brantley went down with injury, Weis was faced with the task of cramming his playbook into the heads of two true freshmen quarterbacks.
Jeff Driskel is back practicing on a sprained ankle again this week, leaving who will start at quarterback still up in the air for Weis and the offense.
The Tigers coaches have taken a lot of heat. Recently it has been Tiger fans begging for Chizik to start the "mini Cam" freshman Kiehl Frazier. Take it from Gator fans, Auburn, there is no player who will replace Cam Newton.
Cam Newton would have been the only player who could have replaced Tebow at Florida (if not for a stolen laptop) and there is not a player in the country that can replace Newton. Trust your coach; he watches them both in practice every day.
We will take this grade down to the national championship meter as head coaches.
Gene Chizik - 1
Will Muschamp - 0
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The Florida Gators and Auburn Tigers will both be looking to get back on the winning track this Saturday. Florida comes into the game reeling after consecutive losses to Alabama and at LSU. Auburn comes into the game after losing to Arkansas by 24 points.
Florida went into Baton Rouge last week and faced the nation's top team, and probably the craziest, loudest crowd any team will offer. The experience that the young players got playing in Death Valley last weekend will help them this week at Auburn.
In the end, Florida will be too much for this Auburn team. Florida has too much speed and excels at what Auburn's defense struggles with the most: short passes. Look for Weis to dial up some short, high-percentage passes in order to get his freshman starter confidence early.
This will be the best defense that Auburn has faced this season. The Gators have been tested, and failed, against the run the past two weeks and Michael Dyer is no small tack this week.
The Gators will slow Dyer down enough to force Auburn into some third-and-long situations where Barrett Trotter will give the game away.
Prediction: Florida 27, Auburn 23