It’s homecoming week. After the parade and Gator Growl, Florida football will engage in a massively important game against cross-division rival, Auburn. To highlight the importance of this matchup, ESPN’s College Gameday will be making their way to campus for the first time since 2012.
The following are our staff predictions for the game:
Auburn is getting all of the attention heading into this game. I’ll admit, they looked impressive against Miss State last weekend. Bo Nix threw for over 300 yards, the Bulldogs were gashed in the running game, and the Tigers’ defense looked rock solid. There’s just one thing… Florida isn’t Miss State. The Gators lead Auburn in nearly every defensive statistical category and Auburn’s weak points just happen to match up with Florida’s strengths. Combine that with a raucous homecoming crowd in the Swamp and I like the Gators to win this contest. Florida wins 24-17.
Typically I look forward to writing these game predictions. This one? Not so much. I’m struggling with this one. It’s frustrating. I see a lot to love from both teams. Auburn’s performance against Mississippi State last week was impressive — yet, then again, the Bulldogs defense is porous. Malzahn’s Tigers have yet to see a defensive threat similar to the one Florida poses. I was able to meet with Florida’s DT Kyree Campbell in one of the most entertaining interviews ever on Monday. Nonetheless, I learned one thing: the defense is jacked on this game. I think they will be ready — and for that reason, I give the Gators a shot. Between the noise in The Swamp and an energized defense, Bo Nix is in trouble. To get the job done, the Gators’ defense will have to play 60 minutes of great football. That means forcing turnovers, staying in gaps and not missing tackles. If they do that, they win the football game. If they win the football game, the entire country will be talking about the Gators. I’ve got Florida travelling to Death Valley with six wins in their pocket. 24-17, Gators.
With both teams heading into the matchup 5-0 and top 10 in the nation, it is fair to say that the winner of this contest will be putting their name into playoff contention. Auburn has had three very impressive wins this season, including wins over 13th-ranked Oregon and 25th-ranked Texas A&M, including a 56-point outburst over Mississippi State. For the Gators, they have not allowed a touchdown since September 14th against Kentucky. This game will be highly intense, and just like last year’s homecoming game, Florida will come up short. Gators will fall to 5-1, losing to Auburn 31-18.
This top-10 matchup is going to come down to three factors: run defense, quarterback pressure and turnovers.
Both teams enter this matchup with stable, yet inexperienced quarterbacks, so a big advantage can be had if the security blanket that is a rushing offense can be taken away.
Florida’s defense and Auburn’s offense are at odds, as the Gators rank second in the SEC in rush defense (86.8 yards per game), while the Tigers are second in rushing offense (251.0 yards per game). These two will neutralize each other, but UF’s red zone defense (No. 1 in SEC, 38.5 percent scoring rate) will prevail when it matters.
The Gators and Dan Mullen are used to utilizing the short passing game to compensate for its sparse ground attack (11th in SEC, 141.4 yards per game), and they’ll take advantage of Auburn’s shaky pass defense (9th in SEC, 225.0 yards per game).
As far as quarterback pressure, both teams allow less than two sacks per game, but Florida has the SEC’s leading sack total at 24 (Auburn, 13).
UF is also is third in the conference in turnover margin (0.8), and AU ranks last (-0.4).
The Gators have the edge in all three critical categories, and they obviously have the home-field advantage. Auburn will keep it close regardless, but Florida prevails, 28-23.
This game will come down to the trenches. Both teams have solid front sevens, but the Gators O-Line has struggled, particularly with the ground game. I expect Mullen to gameplan around this fact with quick passes (ie slants, quick ins/outs, etc.), which should set up the deep ball.
The Gators have struggled with tackling and they will need to clean that up in a major way against the ground attack that Auburn will utilize.
I expect a low scoring game. Turnovers and field position will be important, but I see Florida coming away with a victory, 21-17.
Florida and Auburn are set to kickoff at 3:30 PM. The game will be aired live on CBS. You can follow @MikeyPfeffer and @ChompTalk on Twitter for live updates. Also make sure to check out Own The Fourth Quarter featuring Michael and Will Miles of readandreaction.com.
What are your predictions, Gator Nation? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter or Facebook.