With a brutal stretch coming up, Florida will have plenty of trouble staying unbeaten. This matchup isn’t expected to get in the way, but it certainly did last year.
To match the longest winning streak in school history, the fourth-ranked Gators must beat the last team to defeat them as they host SEC rival Auburn on Saturday.
Though Florida (4-0, 2-0) went on to win the national championship last season, it would have finished with a perfect record if it weren’t for a 27-17 loss at Auburn on Oct. 14. The Gators, who were ranked No. 2 at the time, gave up 19 unanswered points after Tim Tebow’s 16-yard touchdown run gave them a 17-8 lead with 4:10 left in the first half.
Florida has since reeled off an 11-game win streak, tied with LSU for second-best in the nation behind Wisconsin (13), and needs one more victory to equal the school record set in 1995.
The Tigers (2-2, 0-1) limited the Gators to 279 total yards and forced three turnovers in last year’s meeting, though it would be hard to imagine them having similar success Saturday. Florida ranks sixth nationally with a 49.3 scoring average and has had at least 500 total yards of offense in every game.
“We know what type of team they have. We are going to have to be ready to go after them and fly to the football on every snap,” Tigers defensive tackle Pat Sims said.
After facing Auburn, one of only four SEC teams with more than one loss, the Gators visit second-ranked LSU next Saturday before a week off to prepare for back-to-back road games against No. 14 Kentucky and No. 15 Georgia. Those three opponents have a combined 11-1 record, and all of them are heavy favorites to win Saturday, just as Florida is.
The Tigers, however, have won four straight and eight of nine against Top 10 opponents, with the only loss coming in overtime against LSU in 2005. Though Florida owns the nation’s second-longest home winning streak at 18 games, Auburn has won 12 of 13 SEC road games, including six in a row.
“They are still one of the top teams in the SEC,” Tebow said. “Everybody is pretty focused on Auburn. It is a huge game and a game we look forward to before the season.”
Tebow won SEC offensive player of the week honors for the second time this year following his performance last Saturday in a 30-24 win at Mississippi State. His 166 rushing yards were a school record by a quarterback, and he also threw for 261 while accounting for four touchdowns.
Though Tebow set career highs in completions (20) and pass attempts (34), coach Urban Meyer did not like the sophomore signal-caller running the ball a career-high 27 times.
“It wasn’t all predesigned quarterback runs,” Meyer said. “He did not have a particularly good game throwing the ball.
“(But) I’m very concerned. Object No. 1 is to win the game, but you have to take care of your players, too.”
Tebow ranks third nationally with a 198.0 passer rating and is fifth in total offense with 363.5 yards per game.
The quarterback position has been significantly less productive for Auburn, though it hopes to have stabilized that spot with senior Brandon Cox back in the starting role.
Cox started 24 straight games before being benched last week in favor of freshman Kodi Burns, but he came in relief to help the Tigers to a 55-20 win over New Mexico State.
Burns had a 58-yard touchdown pass, but his other four attempts fell incomplete and he was held to 20 yards on seven carries. Cox was mostly mistake-free, going 13-of-19 for 135 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions while getting sacked only once. During Auburn’s 1-2 start, he was sacked eight times and threw six interceptions.
Coach Tommy Tuberville couldn’t have liked the idea of starting Burns in Gainesville in his first road game.
“It’d be really tough for Kodi to go into a situation like that,” Cox said. “I’m glad I’m playing better than I have been, so I can help the team out.”
Cox goes against a young Florida secondary which is 10th in the SEC in pass defense, allowing 252.5 yards per game.
The Gators offense, though, is a juggernaut, scoring on 24 of its 26 possessions inside the red zone, including 21 touchdowns.
That unit has committed only three turnovers this season. Auburn has a minus-9 turnover margin in its two losses, compared to plus-6 in two wins.
“Florida is a great football team,” said Tigers defensive back Jonathan Wilhite, who had two interceptions last week. “We know we are going to have to bring our A-game.”