A morning of festivities led into an afternoon of football in Gainesville, surrounded by a raucous Florida crowd. College GameDay, a top-10 matchup and an SEC rivalry incited more than 90,000 fans into a frenzy, and every tackle produced a near-earthquake cheer.
But those who came to the stadium hoping to see a high-flying shootout got something completely different after No. 10 Florida (6-0, 3-0 SEC) snapped a three-game losing streak against the Tigers on Saturday at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, 24-13, on the back of four takeaways and strong defensive play in its own territory.
The Gators started the game off lightning-quick, shutting down No. 7 Auburn's freshman quarterback Bo Nix with constant pressure and reliable coverage downfield. When Florida got the ball after a three and out, it took just two plays for the game's first score: a quick throw on a slant from quarterback Kyle Trask to receiver Freddie Swain that he took to the house for 64 yards.
UF's defense continued to dominate as the game progressed, holding Auburn (5-1, 2-1 SEC) to just 35 rushing yards in the first half. But the offense didn't do its defense any favors.
Florida had three fumbles in the first quarter as well as an odd fake punt in the second that was stuffed at the line and, if not for the stout Gators defense, the game could have gotten out of hand quickly.
Auburn started four drives in Florida territory in the opening half, but the defense held the Tigers to 13 points, going into the intermission with a four-point lead thanks to a 13-yard Josh Hammond receiving touchdown and a 41-yard Evan McPherson field goal in the second quarter.
Florida did have a scare in the second quarter when Trask went down with an apparent knee injury. Redshirt freshman Emory Jones was forced to take over, completing five of his seven passes and leading his team down the field for the field goal before Trask came back on with a brace on his left knee.
Defensive back Shawn Davis — who had one of the defense's four takeaways on an interception in the second quarter deep in UF's territory — said after the game that Trask playing through his injury rallied a team that was wavering when he went down.
"That's a tough quarterback," Davis said. "A lot of quarterbacks, when they get hurt, they sit out, but coming back in and keep playing, I feel like that's a big thing."
What little offense either team had in the first half completely stalled in the second. Both sides punted the first five drives in the third quarter.
Florida's inexperienced offensive line had a long day against an Auburn defensive line that started four upperclassmen. Trask was sacked four times and had pressure in his face for most of the contest. Coach Dan Mullen was forced to keep the dropbacks short and keep the ball on the ground as much as possible to compensate for his line's lackluster play.
Florida's run game finally broke through after averaging 141.4 yards a game in its first five contests. The offense went for 160 sack-adjusted yards on the ground Saturday against a stout Auburn front, most coming from an 88-yard sprint from running back Lamical Perine in the fourth quarter to put it out of reach for a floundering Auburn offense.
Perine finished the game with a season-high 130 total rushing yards on 14 carries. It was the fourth100-yard run game of his career.
"I'm not going to sit there and say we were run efficient all night, just pounding away at them," Mullen said. "That's the type of thing (Perine) can do… He's taking care of business."
The game was capped off after Auburn failed a desperation fourth-down try. Nix again couldn't find an open man downfield and was stopped short on his scramble to get the first down.
The defense held Auburn to 269 total yards in the game and a Tigers' season-low 124 yards on the ground.
The defense will need to have another suffocating game in Death Valley next week when it meets LSU and senior quarterback Joe Burrow, who is already over 1,500 yards through the air and 17 touchdowns.
“I think like our coach always says: We’ve got to take steps each week,” safety Donovan Stiner said. “So this was just another step for us, and I think it was something to build off for next week so we gotta continue preparing. We know what it takes now so we gotta continue preparing like we have and just get better as a defense as we go.”
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at [email protected]