Since fate would have it that there be no extensive Friday Preview this week, here I offer as a small substitute some quick thoughts and predictions before tonight’s prime time tilt. Please enjoy, and know that we’ll be returning to our regularly scheduled previewage next week.
The last time Auburn and Florida met was in 2007, when an underwhelming Auburn team, fresh off of losses to the likes of South Florida and Mississippi State, went into the Swamp hoping to earn a victory that could turn their season around. Thanks to the foot of a young Wes Byrum (twice), Auburn earned a victory and put 2007 back on the right track, finishing the year 7-2 after the trip to Gainesville. (Mr. Byrum didn’t end off too bad either, and went on to make a few more important game-winning kicks, I’m told.)
Fast-forward through four years of Auburn football, and the 2011 version is in need of that same kind of big win.
This year’s Tigers could use the win to swing momentum at this crucial midseason point, but more than anything, earning a victory would mean avoiding a dreadful loss — one that could have Auburn on pace to fall to 4-4 on the year before the Ole Miss game.
Unfortunately for Auburn, their opponents are going to be plenty motivated as well. The Gators are in the same situation as Auburn, a week removed from a humbling road defeat that gave them their second loss of the year. But, unlike Auburn, Florida still finds themselves in position to realistically challenge for their division crown, with Georgia and South Carolina still on the schedule and with their destiny still in their control.
But the Gators aren’t unstoppable.
The matchup tonight will feature two offenses that have seemingly gone stagnant in the past two weeks with the absence of John Brantley and Emory Blake, respectively.
Florida will start true freshman quarterback Jacoby Brissett once again as a replacement to Brantley and fellow freshman Jeff Driskel, both of whom were injured against Alabama. Florida’s Jeff Demps could be slowed by injury as well, but that doesn’t mean Auburn should be any less fearful of him.
The challenge for Auburn will be to stay in their lane at home and be on their best game. If Auburn can find itself clicking — with Dyer and company providing a potent run threat, and with guys like Daren Bates, Neiko Thorpe, and T’Sharvan Bell coming on defensively — then they’ll find themselves in a good matchup against the Gators.
Auburn will be able to run the ball against Florida, in just the way that they have proven that they can run the ball against just about anyone this season. The Tigers will need a better day in the passing game than last week to win this game — or any game — but with Emory Blake possibly returning as at least an outside threat, and with the game being at Jordan-Hare Stadium where Auburn has had no problem scoring points all season, Barrett Trotter and his receivers should be able to put in a good enough performance.
Defensively, the Tigers have to avoid giving up the big play to this big-play offense. With Chris Rainey, Jeff Demps, and enough speed at the skill positions to make your head spin, Florida will take their chances and they’ll find ways to be creative in getting the ball to their playmakers.
To counter it, the Auburn defense will simply have to play within itself and employ that same bend-but-don’t-break mentality that it has had under Chizik and Ted Roof. What Auburn can’t do is allow a huge play that could change the outlook of a game in an instant, like it did last week in Fayetteville on Joe Adams’s 92-yard touchdown run, and what they really can’t do is let a big play like that crush their spirit.
Auburn can disrupt Florida’s offense if they can pressure Brissett, and it seems they’re able to get quarterbacks off of their game if they’re playing anyone short of Tyler Wilson or a Tahj Boyd playing outside of his mind.
This game makes for a good matchup for Auburn, but obviously you’re never sure what you’re going to get from this team. Meanwhile, the Gators are mad and looking for a big-time win of their own, and might just play their best football of the season tonight. In prime time.
But Auburn is at home, and Auburn is holding serve, and, short of another brutal offensive collapse, Auburn should be able to win tonight.
It seems like it’s the key to every game, but if Auburn can get their offense moving by establishing the run, and if they can play contain on a few of Florida’s biggest playmakers, they’ll be in a good position.
With their ground game, the Tiger’s will be able to move the ball, while Florida has struggled with inconsistency all season.
It shouldn’t matter if it’s a shootout or a low-scoring game — as long as it’s Auburn that dictates that pace.
If this game were at the Swamp, the outlook might have been completely different. But in a night game in Jordan-Hare Stadium, and at this particular point in the season, I think Auburn can find a way to win, and I think that they will.
Auburn 26, Florida 20
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