Forum Spin Doctor
AUBURN, Ala. -- The No. 2 ranked team in the country went down to defeat for the second straight week at Jordan-Hare Stadium and the Auburn Tigers felt a whole lot better about Saturday's result.
A week after being run over by Arkansas to lose their No. 2 ranking, the Tigers shut down the Florida offense in the second half and fed off a special teams play by Venice's Tre Smith to beat Florida 27-17 and put an end to the Gators' run at an unbeaten season.
Smith, who talked about making his final game against Florida special, backed up that talk when it counted most.
The only player on the Auburn team to play have played in a game against Florida prior to Saturday, Smith returned a blocked punt 15 yards to give the Tigers the lead and all the momentum they needed to shock the No. 2-ranked Gators.
The combination of the play by Smith, the Tigers' defensive effort in the second half and Auburn's ability to run against Florida was all the Tigers needed to erase the memory of last week's embarrassment against Arkansas.
The loss ended Florida's unbeaten season and crippled the Gators hopes of playing for a national title. The defeat also made Florida's run to the SEC championship game a little more dangerous.
Florida, now 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC, still controls its own destiny in the conference.
The Tigers, who fell to No. 11 following the loss to Arkansas, are now 6-1 overall and 4-1 in the SEC West. Auburn came back from a 17-8 second-quarter deficit to answer the halftime challenge from Tiger coach Tommy Tuberville to dominate the Gators.
Trailing 17-11 at the half, the game turned on the blocked punt that Smith picked up and ran in. The former Venice High star somersaulted into the end zone then raised his arms and hugged teammates when the clock wound down on Florida.
"It was huge," Smith said about helping Auburn beat Florida, a team he considered joining when he was recruited as a senior at Venice. "I wouldn't have wanted to go home for Thanksgiving if we had lost," Smith said. "Now I can come home and hang out with friends, even if they are Florida fans."
The Gators did not allow a touchdown by the Auburn offense but the Tigers got four field goals by John Vaughn and Smith's TD to get the lead. They then got a defensive TD on the final play of the game when Patrick Lee picked up a fumble and ran it in from 25 yards out.
Florida, on that final desperation play, completed a pass to Dallas Baker, who pitched the ball to Jarryd Fayson. Fayson then tried to lateral back to Leak and Lee was there to pick up the football on the run.
Leak completed just 9 of 17 passes for 113 yards and one TD. He also threw an interception that led to Auburn's final field goal and fumbled on a play where he appeared to be throwing the football. Game officials reviewed the play and ruled that Leak fumbled. That ended a Florida drive that had reached the Auburn 6-yard line midway through the fourth quarter.
Florida got a 16-yard TD run by true freshman quarterback Tim Tebow to take the 17-8 lead. The Gators also got a 22-yard field goal by Chris Hetland and a 15-yard TD pass from Leak to Dallas Baker.
It was not enough.
The teams traded 22-yard field goals to open the game, then continued to trade big plays.
Florida scored on three of their first four possessions of the game and the other one-play possession resulted in a safety when offensive lineman Jim Tartt was called for holding in the end zone.
The Tigers took the kickoff and drove from their own 10-yard line to the Florida 4 before stalling and settling for a 22-yard field goal by Vaughn. The score continued a pattern where the Gators have fallen behind early in games. Florida has trailed in every game this season except its shutout win over Central Florida.
Auburn was forced to kick the field goal after Earl Everett got his hand on a pass intended for Auburn's Rodgeriqus Smith in the end zone.
Auburn's lead didn't last long as the Gators came right back, racing downfield to reach the Auburn 2-yard line before DeShawn Wynn was thrown for a 3-yard loss. Hetland then tied the game with a 22-yard field goal, his first successful field goal of the season.
Florida's defense quickly held the Tigers on their next possession and the Gator offense once again moved swiftly downfield, going 61 yards in eight plays in a little more than three minutes. The score came on a beautiful catch by Baker, who went up over the Auburn defender to grab a pass from Leak in the left corner of the end zone. The 15-yard play and extra-point kick game the Gators a 10-3 lead.
A 62-yard kick return set up the Tigers in excellent field position but the Gators appeared to dodge a bullet when Tony Joiner made a big hit on Tommy Trott to cause a fumble that Derrick Harvey recovered at the Florida 3-yard line. That's when Tartt was called for holding on a pass completion to Billy Latsko.
The safety pulled the Tigers to within 10-5 and Auburn went 50 yards in 11 plays after taking the free kick to score on a 31-yard field goal by Vaughn narrow Florida's lead to 10-8.
The Gators then stunned the Tigers with the three-play drive, which included a 15-yard personal foul penalty for a late hit out of bounds. Percy Harvin went 14 yards on the first play and Florida got 15 more yards when the freshman was tackled out of bounds.
Harvin then took a handoff and raced down the left side to the Auburn 16-yard line.
Tebow then came in to take the snap and run right up the middle. The touchdown gave Florida a 17-8 lead.