What To Watch: Gators Vs. Tigers

Auburn, Ala.--Florida quarterback Rex Grossman and the Gator offense have been blazing a trail they hope leads from Gainesville to the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, California, the site of the BCS National Championship game this season. Since opening with a 49-14 victory over Marshall, nobody has challenged the 2001 Gators.

Florida (5-0, 3-0 SEC) has been strong at home and on the road. The Gators hit the trail running after a 55-6 victory over Louisiana-Monroe in game two and then they visited Lexington and blasted Kentucky 44-10 in the SEC-opener.

Next, Florida refueled at "The Swamp" in a 52-0 lambasting of Mississippi State, then hit the trail to Baton Rouge where they battered defenseless LSU, the preseason SEC West favorites, by a 44-15 margin.

Because of that strong start, the Gators are an unheard of three-touchdown favorite over the Tigers. As the old SEC rivals get ready to meet again Saturday night, here is What To Watch:

Hot, Hot, Hot Quarterback

How well is Florida quarterback Rex Grossman playing? Well, consider the numbers, which are off the charts through five games as the sophomore has completed 66.3 percent of his passes and has already thrown for 1,865 yards and 20 touchdowns.

Grossman's game-by-game statistics include:

Marshall

20-for-30, 375 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT


Louisiana-Monroe
23-for-34, 331 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT

Kentucky
22-for-36, 302 yards, 4 TDs

Mississippi State
22-for-31, 393 yards, 5 TDs

LSU
22-for-32, 464 yards, 5 TDs, 1 INT

Home Field Advantage

Florida used to struggle at Jordan-Hare Stadium, but that has changed with the Gators winning on their last three appearances at Auburn' s home field. The Gators enter this game on such a major roll they probably will not be concerned about the fact that Auburn has won 10 straight games at home.

Another streak on the line Saturday night is Florida's seven-game winning streak in this series that included two victories over the Tigers last year. The Tigers lead the all-time series 39-37-2 and hold a 23-8-1 edge in games played in Auburn.

Auburn's Defensive Challenge

The fact that Auburn is ranked ranked fourth nationally in passing defense, allowing just 125.4 yards a game, probably doesn't strike any fear into Grossman and company who are ranked No. 1 in the nation in passing. Mississippi State entered its contest with the Gators allowing just 68 yards passing a game and Florida torched the Bulldogs for 507 yards. The next week, Auburn could only muster 79 yards passing against Mississippi State in a 16-14 victory over the Bulldogs.

While the Tiger defense will attempt to be the first team to slow down the Gators' quick-strike passing offense, that is just one concern for AU defensive coordinator John Lovett. Florida has scored 33 touchdowns this season and its average time of possession on those drives has been 2:28. Much of that has been done with the big pass play, but the Gators have a recent history of big plays in the running game, too.

In Spurrier's 11 seasons at UF, he has a 91-2 record when the Gators outrush their opponent, but is just 26-23-1 when the Gators gain less than their opponents. Florida's leading rusher, Earnest Graham, is listed as doubtful for the game so the bulk of the rushing attempts will be given to Robert Gillespie, who has 51 carries for 278 yards this season. Graham has rushed for 335 yards on 66 carries and has scored six touchdowns.

Rain, Rain, Go Away...Or Stay All Day

Nothing has been able to stop the pass-happy Gators this season and it doesn't appear that will change anytime soon unless the weather forecasters are accurate with their predictions of heavy rain and strong winds Saturday night in Auburn. It is doubtful that Auburn Coach Tommy Tuberville will have his players doing a rain dance prior to the game, but the coach admits that really inclement weather could give the underdog Tigers a better chance at upsetting the nation's top-ranked team.

A light rain almost always favors a good passing team because a slippery field makes coverage extremely difficult for cornerbacks. The Auburn coach says he hopes the weather is nice, but if it rains he wouldn't mind a "toad strangler."

How will AU offensive coordinator Noel Mazzone deal with some very wet and very wind weather? Considering that tailback Casinious Moore and the offensive line had an impressive showing on the ground last week, the Tigers would probably keep the ball out of the air as much as possible. The one major drawback in that plan is the Gator defense, which is allowing just 71.8 rushing yards per contest. Auburn is averaging 176.8 yards passing a game and 167.8 yards rushing.

The Turnover Factor

Both teams have 10 turnovers in five games this season. Two turnovers per game is not too big of a concern if you are on a Florida team that is beating opponents by nearly 40 points an outing. However, it is a bigger concern for Auburn. In the Tigers' three conference wins, their average margin of victory is just 3.6 points. In their only loss of the season to Syracuse, the Tigers turned the ball over five times and the Orangemen scored 17 points off those turnovers. The final score of that game was 17 points (31-14) so holding on to the football should mean a little more to a young Auburn team that can't afford to give the Gators many breaks.

Neither team has been prone to forcing the turnover, which Auburn needs to do if the Tigers want to upset the nation's number one ranked team. The Tigers have forced just nine on three interceptions and six fumbles, while Florida has forced just seven on three interceptions and four fumbles.

Risky Business

A stat that sometimes gets overlooked in the "turnover equation" is fourth down conversions. Spurrier and Tuberville are not shy about taking a risk on fourth downs and that will likely be the case again this week. For the season, the Gators are 7-9 and the Tigers are 5-10. On stopping fourth down conversions, Florida's opponents are just 1-9 and Auburn's opponents are 3-6.

Auburn's Tuberville has a reputation for trying to surprise the opposition when his team is the underdog and that is definitely the case this week. Spurrier is well aware of Tuberville's tendencies so you can be sure the Gators have been advised to expect the unexpected.


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