Stout Tiger defense keeps the Gators out of the end zone!
War Eagle, everybody! It's time now for the Acid Reign report on Auburn's 17-6 win over the Florida Gators. This one promised to be a defensive scrum, and the game delivered. While the Auburn offense was held to 278 total yards, Auburn held Florida to only 194 total yards, and forced 3 Gator turnovers. Auburn did not turn the ball over, and that resulted in a double digit win. Widely expected by pundits like Phil Steele to have a losing season this year, the Auburn Tigers are now 5-2 and 3-1 in the SEC. A bowl bid is nearly assured, and the Tigers still remain in the SEC West hunt, at least till next Saturday. Can Auburn take the next step and beat a top 5 team on the road?
Over the past 40 years, the Florida Gators have been a thorn in Auburn's side. Auburn's record against Florida during that stretch is 14 wins and 21 losses. Included in that stretch is a 2-8 record in the 1990s. However, the Tigers have now won three in a row against the Gators, and 4 of the last 5. Here's your stat of the day: Auburn has yet to lose a fumble this season, and they are the only team left in the nation who has held onto the ball that well!
It was a gorgeous bell-clear day in Auburn, but perhaps a bit warmer than the weather folk predicted. It felt like 80 degrees, and the promised evening chill never panned out. Visiting Gator fans were clearly worried about it. War Eagle Atlanta and I talked to several visitors, and nearly every one had some sort of jacket at the ready. The Gator faithful had little to cheer about, as their team could not finish a drive, nor field punts. It was great to be back in the stands with WEA! I think we made some noise...
Gators went home sad.
While it was an enjoyable final result, the first half was difficult to sit through. It was an inept display with both offenses. Offensive lines whiffed on blocks, H-backs were shoved back into runners, quarterbacks could not make accurate passes, and when they occasionally did, receivers dropped them. Tortured by holding and false start penalties last week, this time for Auburn it was personal fouls and face masks. Florida put together two field goal drives based on 15 yard penalties on the Tigers. Auburn got a cheap touchdown after the Gators' Chris Rainey was shoved around trying to field a punt, and Auburn recovered the loose ball. I thought the top of Florida coach Will Muschamp's head was going to blow off, as he barked at every official in range. Florida jumped offsides on an Auburn 3rd down, Barrett Trotter rolled out with the free play, and lofted a wobbling wounded duck into double coverage. DeAngelo Benton outleaped the defenders and hauled it in for the score. Harrassed and harried the entire first half, Trotter managed only one decent downfield pass, and of course Benton dropped it in the red zone.
Quentin Riggins of the Auburn Radio Network warned us to expect personnel changes coming out of the break. A murmur rippled through the crowd as Clint Moseley took the field with the Auburn offense. Moseley's first pass missed a wide-open Jay Wisner horribly. Luckily no Florida defender was in the same zip code. I suppose we have to remember that Pat Sullivan sailed his first meaningful pass, too. Moseley chunked another down the middle to a Florida defender later in the half, but it was dropped. Aside from those two bad passes, Moseley handled himself well. He made several big league throws, and was crisp running the offense. Folks, we now officially have a three-headed quarterback controversy at Auburn. Who do we start in Death Valley next week?
I was disappointed in the officiating. Both sides received some bad calls. I was particularly irritated when the linesmen let Florida's punt gunners get a 5 yard running start downfield before the snap. Apparently to Steve Shaw's bums, it's perfectly legal for a Florida offensive tackle to apply choke holds from behind on Corey Lemonier. And I've already mentioned the punt interference those refs didn't call on Auburn. I've heard some folks blame it on a late fair-catch signal by Rainey. Doesn't matter. Can't run into the return man before the ball gets there, which is clearly what happened.
Unit Grades, after the jump!
Defensive Line: B+. This unit is holding its ground across the board, and they've come a long way this season. Corey Lemonier was a terror. Florida tripped him, choked him, chipped him with an extra blocker and sometimes just latched on and tackled him at the line, all while the three blind mice in the zebra-striped shirts choked on their whistles. Lemonier still produced 6 solo tackles, 2 sacks and 3 tackles for loss. Nosa Eguae had a solid game on the other side, as well. Auburn tackles rotated frequently, and made more good plays than bad. Auburn's end situation is getting critical. It appeared to me that only Craig Sanders got meaningful minutes off the bench. Lemonier and Equae played a lot of snaps. Late in the game, Florida quarterbacks had a lot of time to throw, especially when Auburn only brought 4 rushers. I attribute that to fatigue.
Linebackers: A-. This unit took another major step forward. Run fits and tackling have improved over the last three games, but this game the Tiger coverage skills made an appearance. Like the offenses Auburn's seen earlier in the year, Florida tried to run some shallow crossing patterns underneath. While most of the small amount of Gator passing success was on those patterns, the receivers paid a price. Bates, Holland and Evans all took turns knocking folks off their pins crossing the field. Near the end, Gator tight end Jordan Reed had a good ball thrown to him inside the Auburn ten yard line. He heard footsteps, juggled the ball, then got popped. Auburn's strategy had paid dividends! Biggest quibble is that we still don't have our assignments right on the speed option.
Who's got contain on this thing?
Secondary: B+. I have to count off for a few fouls that kept Florida drives alive. We also let a Florida receiver go on a flea-flicker, but luckily the Gators could not connect. Still, this is a deep and talented unit. We knew Gator offensive coordinator Charlie Weis loves the deep ball. T'sharvan Bell put the quietus on that on the second play of the game, playing brilliant man to man coverage and taking the ball away from Deonte Thompson. Auburn rotated 6 corners and 4 safeties, and Florida still could not find much downfield. The quick screen to the outside that has killed the Roof D for the last two and a half years is finally being challenged. Bell and Chris Davis showed a particular knack for disrupting those. I heard some bagging on safety Neiko Thorpe for not bringing in a late interception, but it would have been a difficult catch.
Punting: B. Steven Clark had something of an off night. He's been outstanding this season, but was more ordinary this night. He didn't quite get the distance he's been getting, and had a couple of pretty short ones. The 39.2 yard average was on the edge of respectability. Clark added a couple of punts downed barely inside the 20 to his resume. What the stats don't measure, and you don't really see on TV is height. I don't think I've seen an Auburn punter get them as high as Clark does. Those things corkscrew up like an artillery shell, wobbling and spinning up to upper deck height! We've seldom seen an enemy punt returner have any room when the thing comes down. Florida lost four yards on punt returns, and turned the ball over twice. I really, really don't know why Muschamp kept having them try to field those things!
Punt Returns: C+. Florida punted 7 times for a 46.1 yard average, and that included an 18 yard fumble/shank. Quan Bray returned one for 10 yards. We continue to be sure handed here. A fair catch is infinitely preferable to a fumble under the current rules. Ask Florida...
Kick Returns: B+. The Tigers managed a 24.6 yard return average on 3 kickoffs. That included a short one to the 16 that McCalebb only got 14 yards on. Sitting in the stands, one of our first questions was "where's Tre Mason?" Evidently, he got nicked up in practice this week. He was replaced by true freshman Robinson Therezie, who nearly went the distance with his first attempt, picking up 36 yards. Where did this suddenly bottomless well of return men come from?
Place-kicking: C+. Parkey finished off this game with a 42 yard field goal, and added one touchback to give him 21 on the season. However, there were problems in this one. Parkey missed two long field goals, and 3 of his kickoffs were returned for a gaudy 29.3 yard average. Our coverage unit was apparently pretty surprised at the returnable kicks. There was no breeze to speak of, either. Much like his predecessor Wes Byrum, Parkey was money when the game was on the line. After kicking the game winner, Parkey was in on the tackle on the return.
Offensive Line: D+. I have to give credit for reducing the holding penalties from 6 to just one, and there was yet another false start by Brandon Mosley. Auburn's interior line had a ton of trouble with Gator tackles Jaye Howard and Dominique Easley. Those two combined for 9 tackles, a sack, and two quarterback hurries. They were routinely manhandling Auburn linemen backward. The pair were a combination of power and quickness Auburn could not handle, which doesn't bode well for the matchup in Baton Rouge next week.
Running Backs: C-. Auburn's backs didn't have a lot of room in this one, and blocking is a huge concern. Kudos to Onterio McCalebb for a touchdown run to give Auburn breathing room, and to Michael Dyer for pounding the ball inside, but there wasn't much production. H-back blocking was poor. Most embarrassing play for the running backs was big Ladarious Phillips getting shoved way back into Barrett Trotter. I'm giving a C mainly based on continued good ball security.
Receivers: C. There were several great catches, and when Auburn really needed drives in the second half, the receivers came through when the ball was delivered. There was the usual glaring Benton drop in this one, but the rest were caught if the receiver got a hand on it. What really hurt was watching Florida DB's totally disrespecting some of the Auburn receivers. You'd see a 15 yard cushion on some guys. Jay Wisner's guy was constantly leaving him alone and corner blitzing. You'd think we'd have a check to a quick pass on that, but no. Never tried it. Receiver blocking is certainly not what it was last season. Tiger coaches were desperate enough this game to slap a number 97 jersey on senior walk-on lineman Bobby Ingalls, and put him in as a tight end. Ouch.
Quarterback: D+. I've covered most of Clint Moseley's performance above, but he did a better job than I anticipated he would. There were a couple of throws he'd like to have back. Trotter had no chance in this one, because his protection was nearly non-existent. My opinion is that Moseley was put in because of his stronger arm and quicker legs. If our quarterback is going to have to play under constant duress, maybe you put the guy out there who has more physical tools. Putting Frazier in gets you a tough runner, but the defense can line up knowing the ball won't be thrown. I'm very glad I'm not making the quarterback starting decision this week. It's a mess right now on offense. My question is this: do you start Clint Moseley (who has maybe a dozen career passes) against Tyrann "honey badger" Mathieu and the LSU D? This week will be interesting to watch. I'm sure there will be much debate on various message boards and around office water coolers.
I have to salute both teams and coaching staffs in this one. It would have been easy for either struggling team to mail this one in. Both Florida and Auburn played hard, and fought through their difficulties and injuries. Both of these teams are young, and will get better in time.
For this Auburn Tiger, any time you beat Florida it is great! It certainly did not look good in the first half. Confidence was very low in our section. Somehow, Chizik's Tigers find a way. They'll keep on fighting, no matter what! I continue to enjoy watching these young men grow up. I still contend that we are seeing the makings of future greatness.
Coach Chizik celebrates with his players after the icing field goal!
War Eagle, folks! It is great to be an Auburn Tiger! Our brutal October stretch is now 60 percent over. Two more tough matchups to go. We'll face a national championship contender on the road next week, then a desperate Ole Miss team visits Jordan Hare in two weeks. I'll be back to my usual keyboard histrionics against LSU, and I'll be in the stands for the Houston Nutt farewell tour in late October. Let's stay the course with these Tigers!