Kevin Steele

For many decades the Auburn-Florida game was one of the highlights of the Southeastern Conference football schedule featuring numerous exciting games, plenty of talented players and colorful characters on both sides of the rivalry.

Unfortunately, the annual contest matching the Tigers and Gators was disrupted with the SEC changing the league schedules. The teams began playing each other in 1912 and met annually from 1945 until 2002.

When the Tigers and Gators square off in a matchup of Top 10 teams on Saturday it will be Auburn’s first appearance at Gainesville since 2007 when Wes Byrum’s end of the game field goal gave the Tigers a 20-17 victory. The two teams have met just one time since with the Tigers prevailing 17-6 at Jordan-Hare Stadium in 2011.

Auburn leads the overall series 44-38-2 and is on a three-game winning streak vs. the Gators. Even though Florida has homefield advantage and is currently riding a nine-game winning streak dating back to last year, I like Auburn’s chances of returning home with its sixth victory of the season before having a Saturday off to recharge for the second half of the schedule.

Historically, the Tigers have struggled to win at Florida Field where they have just nine victories in 32 tries. Unless the Gators play better than they have so far this season and get some help from Auburn mistakes, I think the visitors have an excellent chance to win this week because I like the way the Tigers are playing at the line of scrimmage.

Florida came into the season with concerns about its offensive line, a group of players who should have their hands full blocking Derrick Brown, Marlon Davidson, Tyrone Truesdell and their teammates on Auburn’s front four. Combine that with the Gator offensive linemen having to protect a quarterback who doesn’t move well and the Florida offense could be vulnerable to the pass rush. That could be a really big issue for the Gators if Auburn’s defensive coordinator, Kevin Steele, dials up blitzes to attack quarterback Kyle Trask.

The strength of the 2019 Gators is on defense. The statistics look very good, but they could be a mirage considering Florida hasn’t faced much in the way of offensive competition. Florida’s 5-0 record has been built against opponents who yet to win a game vs. FBS level competition. In contrast, Auburn has two wins over nationally ranked opponents and none of the five teams the Tigers have defeated own a losing record.

As helpful as those observations might be in analyzing what could happen in Gainesville, that doesn’t mean the Tigers will have a walk in the park on Saturday. The Gators almost invariably have a roster full of talented athletes and that is the case again this year.

Also worth considering is that this game will be the first Top 10 matchup at The Swamp going back to the 2012 season. Throw in it being the location for the weekly GameDay TV show and the Tigers need to expect a very loud crowd and a hostile environment on Saturday. They also need to be prepared for a four-quarter battle, unlike last Saturday’s 56-23 win vs. Mississippi State that was in total control by halftime.

Mark Murphy is the editor of Inside the Auburn Tigers magazine and newsletter

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