GAINESVILLE, Fla. — What a difference a week makes.
Coming off the best performance of his young career versus Mississippi State last week, throwing for 335 yards and two touchdowns in a 56-23 rout, Auburn true freshman quarterback Bo Nix threw three interceptions and took two sacks at No. 10 Florida in a 24-13 loss Saturday inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
The Auburn defense forced four turnovers, holding the Gators to just 32 rushing yards at halftime, but the offense managed just six points off of Florida’s giveaways. Nix finished the contest 11-of-27 for 145 yards and one touchdown.
The glaring issue, however, was missed opportunities.
“That was really tough, obviously,” Nix said. “It was a tough environment. They are a really good team, a really good defense. Our defense played their butts off and they us all the chances in the world to win the game and the offense just didn’t get it done… I feel like we left a lot out there on the field. We had so many chances to do some things and we just left them go through our hands.”
The offense, as has become somewhat of a pattern this season, started slow in the first half. Only this time, the second half adjustments weren’t enough to complete the comeback. The Tigers finished with six three-and-outs and 269 yards of total offense, compared to 398 for Florida, but had just 92 yards heading to the locker room.
Auburn went 2-for-14 on third down, averaging just 4.4 yards per play, and couldn’t convert on its lone red zone appearance when Nix threw his second interception of the afternoon trying to force one in to Sal Cannella in the back of the end zone.
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Head coach Gus Malzahn said earlier in the week that they tried to simulate the environment his team would face in Gainesville, but noted there were still communication issues all afternoon. The Tigers finished with nine penalties for 70 yards, three of which were false starts.
“You expect that, but the disappointing thing for me is we’ve been working with crowd noise since fall camp,” Malzahn said. “This isn’t the only road game we’ve got like this. We’ve got a couple of others that are going to be similar. We didn’t handle it very good. That’s disappointing and it’s really surprising to me. I don’t know how many we had, four or five, but that’s too many.”
The running game, and the SEC’s second leading rusher JaTarvious Whitlow, couldn’t get a push early on at all, which led to numerous third-and-long situations. At one point Saturday, Whitlow had just 10 yards on seven attempts. On third-and-long downs, which are nine yards or more, the Tigers were 0-for-5. And on third-and-short downs, they were 1-for-5.
“They’ve got some guys that can rush the passer and they’re leading our league in sacks, but we just didn’t execute like we can. Give them credit,” Malzahn said. “I don’t mean to take any credit away from them. They are good. We just didn’t execute like we thought we would. There were some things there we felt pretty good about, but give those guys credit. They are a good team. This is one of the toughest places to play, but we just didn’t get it done.”
Whitlow led the team in rushing with 81 yards on 18 carries, and Seth Williams hauled in four receptions for 79 yards and one touchdown to lead Auburn’s receiving corps. Saturday night was Malzahn’s 13th-worst performance, when it comes to offensive output, in 14 years as a college football coach.
Auburn (5-1, 2-1) has a bye week before traveling to Fayetteville to take on Arkansas Oct. 19.
“The bottom line is our quarterback is a freshman quarterback and he’s learning as he goes against a good defense,” Malzahn said. “He’s led us to 5-1. He’s going to bounce back. I’ve got to do a better job of putting him in better position too as far as everything goes with that… But any time you turn the ball over four times on the road, you’re going to have a tough time winning.”
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