When Florida ventures to Auburn this weekend to face the Tigers in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Game of the Week, fans of both teams will approach the matchup with equal measures of fear and excitement. Excitement because these two teams always play up to the moment and provide entertaining football. Fear because both teams’ seasons could unravel with another lackluster showing.
One reason for a potential tailspin is because both teams have problems at the quarterback position. For Florida, injuries to their first and second stringers have hampered offensive production. Starter John Brantley has missed the past two games with a sprained ankle, and backup Jeff Driskel is still nursing an injury that he suffered in their week 5 loss to Alabama. This means that true Freshman Jacoby Brissett will likely start. Against a ferocious LSU defense last week, Brissett played like a freshman quarterback in his first start would be expected, throwing for a paltry 94 yards with 1 TD and 2 interceptions.
This week, the Gators will face a much maligned Auburn defense that is performing at a far cry from the effort pieced together during their BCS Championship run in 2010. Last year, Auburn’s secondary was admittedly porous, but the Tigers were able to defeat opponents by stuffing the run. This year, there are holes throughout their defensive unit, which ranks last in the SEC in total defense, surrendering an average of 439.5 yards per game. Since a freshman will likely lead the Gators into battle, expect Coach Muschamp and his team to rely on the run. Florida possesses two standout running backs in Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps. Rainey has received the lion’s share of the carries this year with 87 total rushes, and provides the Gators with the traditional, SEC smash-mouth running attack. The speedster Demps has carried the ball 50 fewer times than Rainey, but is averaging 8.3 yards per carry, and has 4 r ushing touchdowns compared to Rainey’s two. The two have fueled the nation’s 27th ranked rushing attack which is racking up an impressive 204 yards per game on the ground
On the other side of the field will be Auburn, who is coming off a thumping received at the hands of Arkansas. In last week’s game, Arkansas racked up 438 yards against the Tigers, and exposed the Auburn’s secondary with their bigger, more physical wideouts. Along with their recent defensive futility, the offense, led by quarterback Barrett Trotter, has failed to find any semblance of a rhythm. Since Trotter has been the perceived source of the Tigers’ recent sputtering—he was 6 for 19 for 81 yards and no touchdowns in the Arkansas game—and freshman backup Kiehl Frazier has performed well at times, many Auburn fans have been clamoring for a change at the helm. The main difference between the two quarterbacks is Frazier’s ability to gain yards on the ground. Kiehl is averaging 5.2 yards per carry. To put that in perspective, last year’s Heisman winner Cam Newton averaged 5 .6 yards per rush. However, in limited duty last week against the Razorbacks, Frazier threw two interceptions, and looked uncomfortable in the pocket. This may be one reason why Coach Gene Chizik has reiterated that Trotter remains his starter…at least for the moment.
Regardless of the way the offenses have been performing of late, there are sure to be fireworks in Saturday’s showdown. Three out of the last four contests between the two teams have been decided in the game’s final minute. Adding to the drama is the fact that Auburn has dominated Florida when the two have played at Jordan-Hare Stadium. The Tigers have the home field advantage to the tune of 25-8-1. Adding another layer of intrigue is the fact that Florida head coach Will Muschamp began his coaching career at Auburn, where he served as a graduate assistant in 1995-1996. In 2006, he returned to the Plains to be Auburn’s defensive coordinator for two seasons, including Auburn’s perfect 2004 season. There could be nothing sweeter for Muschamp in his first visit to Auburn as the Gators’ head coach to take down his former team. And Auburn would love to prove that its epic lapse in defensi ve play of late can be corrected against a marquee SEC opponent. Tune in Saturday night to catch the action!