Gators Chomped: Tigers' Defense Bites Florida

Outstanding play by the defense and special teams led Auburn to a 17-6 SEC football victory over the Florida Gators.

Auburn, Ala.--Long-time SEC foes Florida and Auburn renewed their SEC rivalry with an old-school type of football game as the host Tigers held the Gators without a touchdown on the way to 17-6 record.

Strong defense and good special teams play, an old-time formula for success in the SEC, were the keys for the home team.

Auburn held an SEC opponent without a touchdown for the first time since the 2008 3-2 win at Mississippi State.

The six points by the Gators is their lowest total vs. Auburn since the 1988 SEC champs, which featured a great defensive team, shut out the Gators 16-0 at Florida Field.

The Auburn defense gave up 194 yards, the lowest total since holding Tennessee to 191 yards in an Auburn road victory in 2008.

With the game on the line and Auburn leading 14-6, Florida rushed 10 men trying to block Steven Clark's punt as the sophomore was punting from the end zone. Clark hit a high, high boomer that traveled 47 yards where it was fumbled by Robert Clark, who was replacing Chris Rainey, the regular punt returner who had trouble catching Clark's extra high punts earlier in the game.

Steven Clark nails his final punt. Coach Gene Chizik said the sophomore's punts were rainmakers they were so high.

Former walk-on Ikeem Means recovered the football at the Florida 47 with 3:03 left. The Tigers then moved the football 22 yards to set up a 42-yard field goal by Cody Parkey to lock down the victory as Auburn improved to 5-2 overall and 3-1 in the SEC. Florida fell to 4-3 overall and 2-3 in the conference.

"Punting the ball under pressure like that out of the end zone is something we practice all the time," said Auburn special teams coach Jay Boulware. "Our guys did a great job protecting him on the 10-man rush and Steven hit a phenomenal punt. I am very proud of him."

Auburn head coach Gene Chizik had praise for Clark and liked what he saw out of his defense that limited the Gators to 194 yards of total offense. Florida was seldom able to get its speedy running backs on the corner with room to operate as the Gators averaged just 2.2 yards per rush.

Auburn's offense continued its struggles and as a result starting quarterback Barrett Trotter was benched at halftime in favor of Clint Moseley, who shared the second half snaps with freshman Kiehl Frazier in the second half.

Moseley completed 4-7 passes for 90 of Auburn's 123 passing yards. Trotter was just 2-8 for 33 yards and the game's only passing touchdown. Frazier completed his only pass for no gain.

Moseley said it was "a relief" when he finally got the chance to show what he could do with a game on the line, but added, "I knew I had to perform."

Chizik, whose climb up the coaching ladder was as a defensive coach and coordinator, was beaming after the victory. Asked if his defense dominated the Gators, he replied, "Dominant. I think that is the only word you could use. Probably 40 or 50 yards of their offense came on the last drive when we knew they had two scores.

"I couldn't be more proud," Chizik said. "I see it in practice. I see the way they work in practice, and I see a pattern of them understanding the urgency of being a better defense. They've understood that, and we've certainly gotten better in the last three weeks, and I've said that so they will continue to improve.

"We will continue to work in that direction, but I am really proud of them because they don't listen to all the stuff out there," Chizik said of his defense that received plenty of abuse after its early season struggles. "They just kind of come out there and really try to play good football."

The Tigers, who struggled to get any offensive opponent off the field on third down, continued to improve in that area as the Gators converted just three of 13 opportunities. Auburn's offense struggled even more on third downs, converting just 1-13.

"I think tonight on third downs again, I think every week we've improved on third down getting off the field," Chizik said of his defense. "We are just playing better. They are playing more physical. That was a really, really good running game Florida had. They had a lot of speed. They had a lot of success running the football, and our number one goal going in was to stop the run, and they did that tonight."

Most of the first quarter was a battle trying to establish field position. Florida kept the Tigers backed up with excellent punting by Kyle Christy as the Gators managed just a single first down in the period to four for the Tigers.

However, a kicking game error by the Gators set up a touchdown for the Tigers. Chris Rainey mishandled a Steven Clark punt for the second time of the night. The first time the Gators got on the loose ball, but on the second one Daren Bates grabbed the ball giving the Tigers possession at the 32 after Rainey was distracted by Onterio McCalebb who was pressuring him on the coverage.

Three plays later, as the Gators jumped offside, Trotter had a free toss and he threw the ball to DeAngelo Benton in the end zone. The junior receiver beat two defenders to come down with the football and the first touchdown of his collegiate career with 2:11 left in the quarter.

"Man, that touchdown felt great," Benton said. "It is something I have been waiting on for a pretty long time. I was finally able to make a big play."

Florida cut the lead to 7-3 with 10:28 left in the second quarter as the Gators moved 34 yards on seven plays. The biggest one was a 15-yard penalty, a bad call on Robensen Therezie, who was penalized for hitting the quarterback above the shoulders, which is not what happened on the play.

With the Auburn offense struggling in the second quarter the Gators narrowed the gap to one point by driving 64 yards on 12 plays before settling for a 25-yard field goal with 2:33 left to play.

The Tigers had a chance to kick a field goal on their own on the final play of the half, but Cody Parkey's 45-yard attempt was wide leaving Auburn ahead 7-6 at the break.

The first half was dominated by defense. Auburn held the football 29 plays and gained just 102 yards with 20 rushes for 69 and 3-9 passing for 33 yards. The Gators kept the ball for 28 plays in the first half for 104 yards and completed 6-11 passes with one interception for 53 yards.

The defenses maintained control much the third quarter as neither team scored. Auburn finally put together its only lengthy scoring drive of the night when the Tigers moved 66 yards on seven plays to score early in the final period.

The big plays to start the TD drive were a 15-yard pass from Moseley to Philip Lutzenkirchen and a 17-yard run by Michael Dyer, who was held to 73 yards on 23 carries. The biggest play of the possession came after Chad Slade was called for holding. Moseley hooked up with Lutzenkirchen for 23 yards and a first down at the Florida 16.

Two plays later Onterio McCalebb looked like he was shot out of a cannon as he took a handoff from Frazier, raced to the corner and was in the end zone in front of the student section before the Gators could react.

"I have been waiting on it for a long time, but it came at the right time," McCalebb said of his first rushing touchdown of the season.

"Travante Stallworth made a key block and the offensive line sealed it off for me and I had one man to beat so I had to show him my speed," McCalebb added.

Florida responded with a long drive, moving 64 yards on 11 plays with the help of a pair of 15-yard penalties on the Tigers. However, on fourth and four at the Auburn 16, cornerback Chris Davis was in perfect position to knock down a pass in the flat from Jeff Driskel to Deonte Thompson.

Auburn's defense forced a three-and-out on the next possession with an assist from a roaring crowd at Jordan-Hare Stadium that helped force a false started on fourth and three from the Florida 46-yard line. The Gators were going for it, but punted after that, a beauty that pinned the Tigers at their own three-yard line.

The Tigers were forced to punt on fourth down at the six. That is when Clark's final punt was fumbled and recovered by Ikeem Means to set up Clark's field goal to put the game out of reach.

Florida head coach Will Muschamp said the turnovers were a huge factor in the game. He also said that neither of his quarterbacks could get the offense going.

"Both guys (Driskel and starter Jacoby Brissett) didn't do anything that really hurt us in the game, but then again didn't do anything to help us," Muschamp said. "We had a missed throw on the flea flicker--we need to hit that. The more reps and the more turns those young men get they are going to be really good football players. I'm excited about both of them.

"We just need to continue to move forward," Muschamp said. "It's been tough with Jeff (Brantley) being hurt a little bit. We are going into the fifth week of the season and Jacoby didn't have a whole lot of reps because he's the third-stringer. That's the reality, but that's part of the game."

Corey Lemonier sacks Jeff Driskel.

Chizik agreed with Muschamp that the two turnovers on punt returns by the Gators were big factors in the game, but there was more to the victory than that, the Auburn coach said.

"Coach (Ted) Roof and the defensive staff just did a tremendous job," Chizik said. "I think our defense is getting better every week. I think that is something that is obviously one of our goals because we've had a lot of room for improvement.

"Offensively, at times, we were not really where we wanted to be, but when we had to get first downs, when we had to have a couple of big plays in there, we were able to do that. Then the kicking game again was off the charts. I really feel like it was the difference in the ball game.

"Our punt game was outstanding. Our coverage was outstanding. I think we had two turnovers simply because we were getting great height on the ball and getting great coverage down there in the returner's face.

"I really think it was a great win for Auburn," Chizik added. "We had a lot of ex-players come back for this game and it's for our great fans because they played a huge part in this as well as they always do. The home field advantage that we get playing at home is something that we certainly love to play in front of so it was a win for everybody. It was a great win so I am very proud of our staff. I am really, really, really proud of our players, and it was just a great win for Auburn."

Lemonier led the Tigers in tackles with six solos, including two sacks and another tackle for a loss. Chris Davis had five solos for Auburn and Demetruce McNeal had four solos and one assist.

The Tigers return to action next Saturday with a road trip to LSU. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. Central time from Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

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