A bobbled snap.
When Auburn played then-No. 2 Florida in 2006, the game was a wild one. A defensive matchup for much of the first half, UF was up 17-11 in the third quarter when senior punter Eric Wilbur lined up for a punt to flip the field and pin the Tigers deep in their own territory.
But Wilbur bobbled the snap, and corralled it too late, causing his feeble attempt to kick it to be blocked and returned for a touchdown, giving then-No. 11 Auburn a lead it would not give up in the eventual 27-17 win over UF.
A bobbled snap on special teams helped decide the game in 2006. A last-second Auburn field goal decided it in 2007. And whether you like it or not, special teams will once again be critical this Saturday.
Florida and Auburn’s defenses come into the matchup ranked 17th and 33rd, respectively, in total defense with two inexperienced quarterbacks — Florida’s Kyle Trask, who has started two games in his collegiate career, and Auburn’s Bo Nix, who has started five.
Both teams will look to pound the ball on the ground and try to wear down the defenses, especially Auburn, who ranks No. 14 in rush offense. Chances are, it won’t work.
That’s where special teams comes in.
Florida will need every yard that punter Tommy Townsend can lay into his kicks to flip the field the same way Wilbur tried to do 13 years ago when the offense isn’t working. Hopefully, he has better hands.
“I remember watching the game,” Florida’s punter said of the 2006 game. “I always kind of hated Auburn growing up, because I remember losing that game. So, this is one that sits a little heavy in me. So, I’m going to come out there with an edge and try and put out a good performance.”
Townsend’s hands will be essential for punting and for holding sophomore Evan McPherson’s kicks.
McPherson’s strong right leg that has made six of his seven attempts this year will match up against Auburn’s Anders Carlson, brother of former Auburn and current Oakland Raiders kicker Daniel, who’s made five of his six kicks this year.
If the defenses clamp down, this top-10 matchup could be decided by which kicker is better in the clutch.
There’s a lot building up to this game, and everyone is hoping for a shootout of epic proportions. Players for UF have voiced their frustrations that they feel disrespected after the latest AP poll moved them down to No. 10 despite remaining undefeated.
The Gators will have a big opportunity to snap a three-game losing streak to the Tigers, but it won’t be the barn burner everyone wants.
It won’t be as exciting. It won’t be what people hoped for, but special teams will decide this contest. The game will drag, and offenses will stagnate in another classic SEC defensive game.
And the special teams better prepare for a long day’s work.
Follow Dylan Rudolph on Twitter @dyrudolph. Contact him at [email protected].