|Auburn wide receiver DeAngelo Benton (3) catches a touchdown pass as Florida safety Joshua Shaw (9) and linebacker Jelani Jenkins (3) defend in the first half of a NCAA college football game at Jordan-Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala., Saturday, Oct. 15, 2011. (AP Photo/Dave Martin)|
Florida drops 3rd straight, 17-6 to No. 24
AUBURN, Ala.—Florida coach Will Muschamp turned to freshman quarterback No. 2 in the second half.
The switch from Jacoby Brissett to Jeff Driskel didn't jump-start the Gators' offense enough in the second half of Saturday night's 17-6 loss to No. 24 Auburn.
"We had six points at halftime," Muschamp said. "We needed to do something different than what we were doing. You continue to do the same stuff, you're going to get the same results."
The short-handed Gators (4-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) hung in there this time, but wound up with a third straight loss to an SEC West team.
Muschamp is hoping that an open date will give time for veteran starter John Brantley to return at quarterback against Georgia. Like Brantley, tailback Jeff Demps was out with an ankle injury, and defensive end Ronald Powell was also sidelined with an unspecified injury.
Onterio McCalebb opened the fourth quarter with a 14-yard touchdown run and Ikeem Means recovered a muffed punt late for the Tigers (5-2, 3-1).
Two schools that have combined to win three of the last five national titles with creative attacks, turned to backup QBs in the second half in search of some offensive life.
The Tigers got a spark from No. 2 quarterback Clint Moseley but also received plenty of help from Florida's three turnovers, with two on muffed punts.
The Gators would have had the ball near midfield with about 3 minutes left but Robert Clark had the ball squirt through his arms after calling a fair catch. Cody Parkey then put the game away with a 42-yard field goal with 35 seconds left.
Parkey, who had two earlier misses, nailed the final attempt after getting pushed back 5 yards by a false start penalty. The last five meetings between the teams have gone down to the final minute, and Auburn has won four.
Auburn starter Barrett Trotter went 2-of-8 passing, though he also had a 25-yard touchdown pass to DeAngelo Benton late in the first quarter.
Moseley then took over in the second half. He wound up having the strongest night of the four primary quarterbacks, going 4 of 7 for 90 yards and a couple of big gainers when his first real chance finally came.
"That's just something I had to tell myself," he said. "If you didn't think it's going to come, why would I just prepare for nothing? I had to convince myself, 'It's going to come. It's going to come.' At first, I didn't handle it very well. I finally calmed down."
Florida started Brissett for the second straight game, but he also was replaced in the second half. He and Driskel, two of the top-rated quarterback prospects in this year's class, both completed half of their passes but for mostly short gains.
Driskel was 9 of 18 for 75 yards. Brissett, whose first attempt was intercepted downfield, completed 5 of 10 passes for 45 yards, and both were sacked twice.
Chris Rainey also lost a mishandled punt.
"Turnovers kill us," said Muschamp, a former Auburn defensive coordinator. "These three turnovers lead to 10 points and really cost you the football game."
The Tigers, whose defense ranked at the bottom of the SEC, turned up the heat with blitzes and heavy pressure on the two youngsters, and held Rainey to 33 yards on 16 rushes.
They had also stopped Florida on a fourth-down attempt from their 16 with just under 10 minutes to play.
It was another blow for a Florida team that was coming off losses to No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama by a combined 79-21. The Gators also lost three straight to SEC West teams last season.
"We don't even look back at last year," Florida linebacker Jonathan Bostic said.
Auburn outgained Florida 278-194 in total yards. Mike Dyer ran 23 times for a workmanlike 73 yards and Wildcat QB Kiehl Frazier gained 43.
The Tigers finally stretched the lead to 14-6 with McCalebb's touchdown run on the opening play of the fourth quarter on a zone read by Frazier.
Moseley got Auburn into that position with passes of 15 and 23 yards to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.
Then Driskel took Florida to Auburn's 16 with help from two 15-yard personal foul calls.
Muschamp opted to go for it on fourth-and-4 but Driskel overthrew Deonte Thompson. Muschamp said kicker Caleb Sturgis, who had made two field goals, had hurt his leg and was unavailable for a third.
After the Tigers went three-and-out, Florida lined up to go for another fourth down near midfield but had to punt after a false start. David Lerner buried the Tigers at the 3 with 5:31 left.
All they could do was burn a couple of minutes off the clock with three straight runs up the gut by Mike Dyer, but the miscue on the ensuing punt -- another high, arching boot by Steven Clark -- gave Auburn's offense a chance to put it away.
"Those things were in the clouds," Chizik said.