Like many others before Saturday, I had serious doubts about the potential of this Florida football team. Yes, it was undefeated. Yes, it had talent on both sides of the ball. But the way it won its games left a lot to be desired.
The Gators’ close Week 0 win against Miami and a dramatic comeback win over an unranked Kentucky with a backup quarterback didn’t exactly spark much confidence for me and a lot of others. Going into the Auburn game, I expected UF’s train of luck to finally reach its last stop.
But the team showed something different in its 24-13 win over Auburn on Saturday in its biggest test of the year so far.
Any doubts about whether UF’s defense was an elite unit before the game were entirely put to bed after. Four takeaways and only 13 points relented in a game where five Auburn drives started in Florida territory is nothing short of remarkable.
The defensive front has been at or near the top of the national sack race since its 10-sack performance against the Hurricanes. And it sacked the mobile freshman quarterback Bo Nix twice on Saturday.
The secondary, which had some issues tackling early in the season, suffocated receivers downfield, holding Auburn’s receiving corps to 145 yards and Nix to a 40.7 completion percentage.
Even the special teams have looked good.
Kicker Evan McPherson sports a 90-percent conversion rate on the season after Saturday’s 41-yard field goal, and punter Tommy Townsend has downed nine of his 14 punts inside the 20-yard line this year.
Where things get tricky is on the offensive side of the ball.
Redshirt junior quarterback Kyle Trask has been a pleasant surprise filling in for the injured Feleipe Franks. He’s shown good decision making, and his quick release is perfect for coach Dan Mullen’s dink-and-dunk scheme. He came back against the unranked Wildcats down 11 in the fourth quarter and beat up on a floundering Tennessee and FCS opponent Towson.
But against Auburn, he looked like a backup for the first time, fumbling three of the four times he was sacked and missed multiple throws with pressure in his face.
Trask’s 234 yards and two touchdowns masked the mistakes stemming from poor pocket awareness and were enough to get the win. But he’ll need to be more consistent to win games against No. 5 LSU in Death Valley next week and No. 3 Georgia in Jacksonville two weeks later.
What will help him will be more consistent protection from his offensive line, the unit that has been the biggest weak spot on an otherwise deservedly top 10 squad.
The line saw the departure of four starters over the offseason, and the replacements have been incapable of meeting the already low expectations set for them at the start of the season.
The line has allowed 12 sacks thus far, and its inability to get a consistent push at the line is a big reason why Florida ranks 11th in the SEC in rushing yards per game (139.8).
This unit, and the offense as a whole, will need to be better — no other way to put it.
The Gators can go far, and though they have a tough schedule ahead, their biggest opponent is still themselves.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Gators' defense shut down true freshman Auburn quarterback Bo Nix, sacking him twice and forcing three interceptions — including one from safety Shawn Davis (31). The Tigers were held scoreless during the second half.