Auburn bends Florida's D to breaking point

By BRYAN JONES, Times Staff Writer
Published September 30, 2007

GAINESVILLE - The Gators kept true to their bend-but-don't-break defensive philosophy Saturday, but they learned there is only so much bending a team can handle.

Little by little, a typically mediocre Auburn passing game pecked away at Florida's defense, gashing it for 152 yards in the first half to take a 14-0 halftime lead.

With Auburn controlling the clock and Florida's offense struggling, the deficit was too much for the Gators to overcome.

After making a complete turnaround in the second half, the defense had one last chance to make good but allowed Auburn to drive into field-goal range for a winning 43-yard field goal as time expired.

It wasn't so much the points surrendered by the defense as the time of possession allowed.

The Tigers had the ball 11:43 to 3:17 in the first quarter, and the Gators were held to just six offensive plays.

"I think any time we got singled up with our corners, they picked us apart," Florida coach Urban Meyer said. "We didn't give up any home run balls ... but they just kept picking us apart."

The Gators contained Auburn's running game, allowing 40 yards on 20 carries in the first half.

But the Tigers consistently cranked out first downs on the ground when they needed them, and they ran enough to keep the Gators defense off balance.

Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox, benched before last week's game against New Mexico, started against and defeated the Gators for the second straight year.

He was 10-of-12 for 152 yards in the first half.

The Tigers picked on cornerbacks Wondy Pierre-Louis and Joe Haden equally, often taking advantage of soft zone coverage and picking up chunks of yardage underneath the safeties.

"They'd create one-on-one matchups against a high safety, and they did nice job pitching and catching," Meyer said.

Some key mental miscues on defense and special teams might have hurt the Gators more than poor defensive play.

With Auburn punting on fourth and 1 on its opening possession, Pierre-Louis ran into the punter, resulting in a 5-yard penalty and a first down for Auburn.

"We shouldn't do that," Meyer said in frustration.

The play seemed to set the tone for a first half in which Florida couldn't get Auburn off the field.

The Tigers marched down the field after the mistake, leading to a 6-yard touchdown run by backup quarterback Kodi Burns on a draw.

The Tigers ate up more than seven minutes on the drive.