The Florida alumni made their annual homecoming pilgrimage to Gainesville this weekend for what was supposed to have been a foregone conclusion, at least to many members of the national sports media. Although the Gators entered the game as two-point underdogs, they were clearly the better team on Saturday evening.
The homecoming festivities included a parade, the annual Gator Growl pep rally and concert, a visit from ESPN’s College Gameday, being featured as the SEC on CBS Primetime Game of the Week, and culminated with a top ten clash between the Gators and the Auburn Tigers. Fans arrived before kickoff and helped to set the tone of the game from the onset.
With the crowd fully involved, Jonathan Greenard blew by the Tigers’ offensive line and welcomed true freshman quarterback Bo Nix with a bone crushing hit that was reminiscent of Brandon Spikes mauling Knowshon Moreno. From that moment on, Nix was rattled.
Following a 300 plus yard performance against Mississippi State last weekend, Auburn’s young signal caller was stymied by Florida’s monstrous defense. Many questioned how the Gators would handle the dual threat abilities of Nix, but Florida had answers to those. Nix finished the game 11/27 for 145 yards, – the bulk of which came on two plays – a touchdown, and three interceptions.
The mobile quarterback recorded 10 carries for a paltry 1.8 yards per carry average. Similarly, the Tigers’ vaunted rushing attack was limited to just 124 yards on the day. Although they only recorded a pair of sacks and three tackles for loss, Florida’s defense was a a disruptive force that spent much of the evening in the backfield. The Gators forced Auburn into six three and out possessions, making a statement of their dominance.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Gators moved the ball with relative ease and, if not for fumbling the ball away four times, might have blown the Tigers out. As it were, the team’s traded four turnovers a piece on the way to a 24-13 outcome.
Kyle Trask led the passing attack well, turning in a two touchdown, 234 yard performance that was helped out on the Gators’ first possession by a spectacular run after the catch by Freddie Swain. The talented receiver hauled the pass in and weaved his way through the defense for a 64-yard touchdown, putting the Gators on top for good. Swain posted career highs in catches and total yardage with six and 146, respectively.
It wasn’t all good for Trask and the Gators. Trask fumbled the ball away three different times and took a violent sack when he failed to pick up the blitz assignment. The home crowd found themselves holding their collective breath near the end of the second quarter when Tigers’ defensive lineman, Marlon Davidson rolled up on Kyle Trask’s knee.
Already on their “backup” quarterback, the Gators looked on as Trask lay on the field, clutching his knee. Moments later, he walked off the field and went to the locker room. Emory Jones filled in nicely in his absence, but it wasn’t long before Trask reemerged wearing a knee brace. The redshirt junior completed the game while nursing a minor MCL sprain.
Florida is still struggling to assert themselves in the running game. Dameon Pierce, who has seemed to be able provide some semblance of a downhill run, left the game after his only carry. He took a helmet-to-helmet shot that was deemed to be a legal hit, but he was done for the day, following the play.
Lamical Perine turned in his best performance of the season, recording 14 carries for 130 yards and a score. The 9.3 yard per carry average was heavily bolstered by his 88 yard touchdown. When accounting for the yards lost on the sacks taken by Trask, Florida ended the day with 132 yards rushing.
With the win, the Gators asserted that they belong in the top ten. Whether they win pretty or not is of no concern. What matters is that they are winning. Florida has faced all kinds of adversity as we they reach the midpoint of their season, and they have overcome.
They’ve passed the first test but the next one will be even more difficult, as they travel to Baton Rouge for another top ten battle next weekend. That game will require a defensive performance that is at least as good as the one they turned in on Saturday night, and that they play with much better ball security.
For now, the Gators can enjoy a statement victory, as they remain undefeated and extend the SEC’s longest active winning streak to 10 games. For now, all of their goals remain in front of them. For now, it’s great to be a Florida Gator.