As Kyle Trask sat in the training room at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium waiting for the medical diagnosis for his injured knee, he was more concerned with what was going on with Emory Jones, who had replaced him at quarterback in the second quarter. When told that Jones had taken the Gators down the field for a field goal to extend the lead over Auburn to 17-13, Trask said, “I was so happy, and I'm so proud of him. You know, he works really hard, I just couldn't be more proud.”
Then came the trainers with news about his injury. For that, Trask had no idea what to expect. He was hoping for the best, but prepared for the worst. He had felt a pop in his knee when he went down and he was in pain, but still had no clue the extent of the injury.
“I didn't know what I was about to hear, and I was kind of ready to hear the worst I guess,” Trask said.
Rather than bad news, Trask was told he had a sprained MCL, a painful injury but not debilitating like a torn ACL. There was a huge sigh of relief when told he could go back into the game. He knew that “knees are nothing to play around with” but he had confidence in the training staff that he would be fine if he could handle the discomfort.
When he ran out the tunnel to return to the game, the crowd of 90,584 roared its approval. When he went back in the ball game the next time the Gators had the football, it not only sent a message to the overflow crowd at The Swamp, but a clear message to his teammates that he was tough enough to take whatever Auburn was dishing out. With less than four minutes to go in the game and the Gators needing a first down to keep the clock moving, Trask further demonstrated his toughness when he caught a throwback pass from Lucas Krull for a first down. It was just a four-yard pass that turned a third-and-one into a first down, but it was yet another clear signal that Kyle Trask was a tough guy playing in the kind of game where only the toughest walk away with a victory.
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In the fourth quarter with the Gators still leading 17-13, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham dialed up a jailbreak blitz that caught Auburn freshman quarterback Bo Nix by complete surprise. When his first escape move didn't work and more Gators broke through his firewall of protection, Nix should have hit the turf. That's what a veteran quarterback would have done. But Nix isn't a veteran and on this day he showed the world he's still a rookie going through on-the-job training. Nix doubled back and found himself surrounded by three Gators. He might have tried to reverse his field again, but his feet went out from under him. Third-and-eight was now fourth-and-30. Auburn had to punt.
It was a good punt, high and unreturnable. Florida was pinned back at its own 12 which meant Auburn was still in good shape to get the ball back and put together a winning touchdown drive if only the Tigers could get another three-and-out.
That was Auburn's plan but it only took one play to stick a nine-inch stiletto deep in the Tigers heart and the guy who did it was the kid they never offered a scholarship back when he was lighting up defenses at Mobile (AL) Theodore. Lamical Perine broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage, saw daylight to his right and accelerated to the sideline. At the 35, he legged it past a diving Tiger and then only had to outrun the rest of the Auburn defense the final 65 yards.
As he turned on the jets to complete this dramatic 88-yard touchdown run that put the Tigers out of their misery, it wasn't just business. This was personal.
“I wanted them [Auburn] to know,” he said as he stood at the podium speaking to the media in the South End Zone meeting room post game. “I wanted them to understand that it meant a lot to me to get out there and to even make that big-time play.”
You see, there was a reason Auburn never offered Perine a scholarship. They thought – wrongly as it turned out – that he was too slow. At the game's biggest moment Saturday, the fastest guys on an Auburn defense renowned for its team speed couldn't even think about catching the guy who was too slow.
All they could do is chase him all the way to the South End Zone. For a guy who was too slow, he looked pretty darn fast.
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There is something quite similar in the stories of Trask and Perine. Trask is the quarterback no big schools wanted because he never started in high school. The only reason he's at Florida was he came to camp here and threw the ball so well the previous [pre-Dan Mullen] coaching staff thought they had found the ultimate diamond in the rough. Perine is here because the two schools every kid in the state of Alabama grows up wanting to play for – Alabama and Auburn – didn't want him.
We really shouldn't be all that surprised that Mullen's offensive schemes are working at Florida nor should we be surprised that he's taken guys that other people didn't want (like Trask and Perine) and turned them into players who can rise to the occasion on big stages like the one Saturday. When he was at Mississippi State, Mullen's offenses put points on the scoreboard and did it with players the Alabamas and Auburns of the world – and yes, the Floridas, too – wouldn't have given a second look.
At some point in the near future, Mullen's track record for winning and developing talent is going to resonate with recruiting classes that create the kind of depth that hasn't been seen at Florida since the days when Mullen was Urban Meyer's offensive coordinator and some of the big names on offense were Tim Tebow and Percy Harvin among others. Oh, you can count on Mullen still looking for that next Dak Prescott, who Alabama and others thought might make a fine college linebacker, but winning and scoring points is going to attract some truly elite talent in the future.
"When I was here before we had elite offensive players at every position and on the bench,” Mullen said Saturday evening. “I don't know that we're at that point yet, but we're working to get there. We'll work to get there, but we have guys that believe in [what we're doing as a team] and expect to win. When I left I think we were rolling people like 59-7 in SEC games and stuff like that. Or something ridiculous. But we'll get there."
SOME GOOD THINGS ABOUT THE AUBURN WIN
Freddie Swain had a career day with six catches for 164 yards and a touchdown. We know that Auburn didn't recruit Lamical Perine because they thought he was too slow. They must have thought the same thing about Swain because they kept matching him up with a linebacker. Check out that touchdown catch when Swain not only left Auburn linebacker KJ Britt in his tracks but turned on the jets and outran everybody else in the Auburn secondary.
Three times when Auburn was facing third-and-short, David Reese was in on the tackle to stop Boobie Whitlow short of a first down. Big time players show up big in the biggest games and Reese made his presence known with 13 tackles.
Jonathan Greenard didn't get a sack but he harassed Bo Nix and helped make the Auburn QB look like a lost ball in the tall weeds a good portion of the game. He was credited with three quarterback hurries. It seemed like he had at least twice that many. He also nailed Whitlow for no gain on a third-and-one on Auburn's first possession.
Florida's secondary came up with three interceptions. There were two blown coverages on a 32-yard touchdown pass and a 46-yard completion but two blown coverages are tolerable when you also pick off three passes in critical situations. The one-handed pick by Shawn Davis and his twisting, turning 41-yard return were spectacular. With CJ Henderson and Marco Wilson at the corners, Auburn had trouble getting people open on vertical routes on the outside.
Emory Jones went into the game cold in the second quarter when Trask went down and led the Gators to a field goal. He completed 5-7 passes for 28 yards and ran three times for 13 more.
Tight end Lucas Krull didn't get a pass thrown his way, but he contributed in a big way when he took a handoff from Trask and sold tight end around to the Auburn defense before making the nice throwback to Trask for the first down in the fourth quarter.
Defensive coordinator Todd Grantham used the blitz judiciously and that confused Bo Nix. Nix kept waiting for the Gators to bring the house but for the most part, they got pressure with only a three- or four-man rush. In the second half, Grantham unleashed a jailbreak blitz that turned a third-and-eight into a fourth-and-30 then later got another sack when James Houston came up the gut on a delayed blitz. In both situations, Nix never knew what was coming.
The Gators outrushed Auburn 132-124. Auburn came into the game averaging 251 yards per game but managed only 3.6 yards per carry.
Alabama native Evan McPherson kicked a 41-yard field goal, made all three of his extra points and four of his five kickoffs were touchbacks.
Despite a fake punt that didn't go so well, Tommy Townsend spent the day flipping the field (averaged 47.1 per punt).
SOME NOT SO GOOD THINGS ABOUT THE AUBURN WIN
Four fumbles. Three of them were by Trask, but only one was caused by the Auburn defensive line. The other two were on blitzes that nobody picked up.
The curious no call on KJ Britt who knocked Dameon Pierce out of the game with a helmet-to-helmet hit. Not only was a zebra standing right there, close enough to see it without an impeded view, but the replay booth in Birmingham must have overdosed on Alleve PM.
Too many times Nix had a clear field ahead of him so he ran for positive yards.
The fake punt in the second quarter was the wrong call. Auburn had it well defended and it cost the Gators a touchdown.
Jean Delance had real problems handling speed off the edge and the three interior guys – Nick Buchanan, Chris Bleich and Brett Heggie – had days they would like to forget trying to neutralize Derrick Brown.