AUBURN, Ala. (AP) – The Auburn Tigers made use of two things that can redeem a struggling offense: big special teams plays and a backup quarterback.
Onterio McCalebb opened the fourth quarter with a 14-yard touchdown run, Ikeem Means recovered a muffed punt late and No. 24 Auburn beat Florida 17-6 in a defensive game that saw seven players take snaps at quarterback. The Tigers also owned the special teams play.
“The kicking game was off the charts,” Tigers coach Gene Chizik said. “I really feel it was the difference in the ball game.”
Two schools that have combined to win three of the last five national titles with creative attacks, turned to backup QBs in the second half in search of some offensive life.
The Tigers (5-2, 3-1 Southeastern Conference) got a spark from No. 2 quarterback Clint Moseley but also received plenty of help from Florida (4-3, 2-3), which committed three turnovers with two on muffed punts.
The Gators would have had the ball near midfield with about 3 minutes left but Robert Clark had the ball squirt through his arms after calling a fair catch. Cody Parkey then put the game away with a 42-yard field goal with 35 seconds left.
Parkey, who had two earlier misses, nailed the final attempt after getting pushed back 5 yards by a false start penalty. The last five meetings between the teams have gone down to the final minute, with Auburn winning four of them.
Chizik pumped his fists in the air going off the field well after game’s end, pointing with both hands toward the “AU” on the back of his jacket as he went.
“We have fought and clawed and scratched our way to five wins, and that’s how we’re going to do it,” he said. “It was just the right people making plays at the right time, and I think that’s what won the ball game.”
Chizik had plenty to celebrate for a team coming off a lopsided defeat at Arkansas. The Tigers showed periodic signs — again — that they could still exceed expectations after losing most of their key players from last year’s national title team.
A quarterback change might be in the offing, too. Barrett Trotter went 2-of-8 passing, though he also had a 25-yard touchdown pass to DeAngelo Benton late in the first quarter.
Moseley then took over in the second half. He wound up having the strongest night of the four primary quarterbacks, going 4 of 7 for 90 yards and a couple of big gainers in his first real chance.
“That’s just something I had to tell myself,” he said. “If you didn’t think it’s going to come, why would I just prepare for nothing? I had to convince myself, ‘It’s going to come. It’s going to come.’ At first, I didn’t handle it very well. I finally calmed down.”
With quarterback John Brantley and tailback Jeff Demps out with ankle injuries, the Gators had to rely on two freshman passers.
Florida started Jacoby Brissett for the second straight game, but he also was replaced in the second half. He and Jeff Driskel, two of the top-rated quarterback prospects in this year’s class, both completed half of their passes but for mostly short gains.
Driskel was 9 of 18 for 75 yards. Brissett, whose first attempt was intercepted downfield, completed 5 of 10 passes for 45 yards, and both were sacked twice.
Chris Rainey also lost a mishandled punt.
“Turnovers kill us,” said Gators coach Will Muschamp, a former Auburn defensive coordinator.
“These three turnovers lead to 10 points and really cost you the football game.”
The Tigers, whose defense ranked at the bottom of the SEC, turned up the heat with blitzes and heavy pressure on the two youngsters, and held Chris Rainey to 33 yards on 16 rushes.
They had also stopped Florida on a fourth-down attempt from their 16 with just under 10 minutes to play.
It was another blow for a Florida team that was coming off losses to No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Alabama by a combined 79-21. The Gators also lost three straight to SEC West teams last season.
“We don’t even look back at last year,” Florida linebacker Jonathan Bostic.
Auburn outgained Florida 278-194 in total yards. Mike Dyer ran 23 times for a workmanlike 73 yards and Wildcat QB Kiehl Frazier gained 43.
The Tigers finally stretched the lead to 14-6 with McCalebb’s touchdown run on the opening play of the fourth quarter on a zone read by Frazier.
Moseley got Auburn into that position with passes of 15 and 23 yards to tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen.
Then Driskel took Florida to Auburn’s 16 with help from two 15-yard personal foul calls.
Muschamp opted to go for it on fourth-and-4 but Driskel overthrew Deonte Thompson. Muschamp said kicker Caleb Sturgis, who had made two field goals, had hurt his leg and was unavailable for a third.
After the Tigers went three-and-out, Florida lined up to go for another fourth down near midfield but had to punt after a false start. David Lerner buried the Tigers at the 3 with 5:31 left.
All they could do was burn a couple of minutes off the clock with three straight runs up the gut by Mike Dyer, but the Clark’s miscue on the ensuing punt — another high, arching boot by Steven Clark — gave Auburn’s offense a chance to put it away.
“Those things were in the clouds,” Chizik said.
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