Upon Further Review: Expect Auburn To Come Back Strong
Auburn's Derrick Brown sacks Florida quarterback Kyle Trask on Saturday Oct. 5, 2019. (photo: Todd Van Ernst)
As soon as the seconds ticked off the clock in Ben Hill Stadium, I knew the deluge would begin. Saturday evening and Sunday were days of venting on social media for a lot of Auburn fans disappointed in Auburn’s 24–13 loss to Florida.
But after two days, maybe we can step back and look at things with a little more perspective. While I concede there were plenty of questions for the coaching staff after a loss (that felt like should have never occurred), this was a game that came down to who would make the least mistakes or, more so, who would capitalize on the last miscue.
That happened with two-and-a-half minutes to go in the game when Florida’s Marco Wilson picked off Bo Nix to seal the Gator victory. Nix, who had been spectacular coming into the game, finally looked like the freshman quarterback that he is. That had something to do with the raucous fans at the Swamp as well as an outstanding Gator secondary.
I don’t for a minute think Nix’s performance will define him as a quarterback. I still think he’s going to be a good one, maybe a great one. Expect him to learn from the moment and grow. Every great quarterback has had learning experiences on the way to a great career. Bo Nix will too.
There were way too many mistakes and miscues on both sides of the line of scrimmage for two top-10 undefeated teams. At times there was sloppy play from each offense. It really came down to a defensive struggle with Auburn forcing four turnovers and Florida recovering a fumble and making three interceptions. Aurburn’s one fumble was a muffed punt on the two-yard line that led to a Gator touchdown. Not the way to put yourself in position to win a ball game.
If Auburn looked confused at times, there was a reason. Without a doubt the MVP of the game for Florida was the fans in the stands. Few places in America can compare to playing in the Swamp.
As much as we like to talk about how tough it is to play in Jordan-Hare, Ben Hill Stadium has been consistently ranked near the top of lists for home field advantage. Its design has some unique features that not only rattle a team but make communication almost impossible.
The field is below ground level with steep stands that go down almost to the playing surface. Noise inside the stadium has been measured at 115 decibels, which experts say is just short of the pain threshold. Because of that, Pat Dye always said it was the most difficult place he ever took a team to play. Saturday, it helped cause Auburn miscues on offense, defense, and special teams, making it a total team loss.
However, the brunt of this weekend’s criticism has been borne by Gus Malzahn. Could he have called better plays? Most certainly. But as Coach Dye used to say, it’s not the X’s and O’s but the Jimmy’s and Joe’s that win ball games. And there were several failed opportunities that could have produced an Auburn win.
Two in particular stand out. The first occurred while Derrick Brown was returning a fumble for an apparent touchdown when he inexplicably fell down. Brown was out in front of the Florida pursuit with a wall of blockers between him and the nearest Gator. The second opportunity was Nix not seeing a Gator defender while throwing what looked like a touchdown pass in the third quarter. If he had made the right decision, Auburn could have gone up 20–17 or at least closed the gap to 14–13 with a field goal. If Nix and Brown both had completed their plays for touchdowns, Auburn wins the game 27–24.
For all the teeth gnashing over the last two days, fans need to remember Auburn is 5–1 against the toughest first-half season football schedule in the nation. The Tigers have played three nationally ranked teams on the road and beaten two of them. No other team can say that.
The Florida loss was very disappointing, especially for the players and coaches. But the good thing is the Tigers have a bye week to regroup and make corrections before beginning the toughest second-half college football schedule in the nation.
Expect Auburn to come back strong.