Perine, defense lift No. 10 Florida past No. 7 Auburn, 24-13
GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Lamical Perine was too slow to play for Auburn four years ago, a hurtful evaluation that’s stuck with him.
He showed plenty of speed while running away from the Tigers — and a few guys he played against in high school — in the Swamp on Saturday.
Perine broke loose for an 88-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, Florida’s defense delivered another gem and the No. 10 Gators beat seventh-ranked Auburn 24-13 in a matchup of unbeaten teams.
Perine broke linebacker K.J. Britt’s tackle at the line of scrimmage and scampered down the sideline for the program’s longest TD run in more than 30 years. It gave the Gators (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) extra breathing room in a game they never trailed.
Doing it against Auburn was extra special.
“Almost brought tears to my eyes,” said Perine, whose run was the longest for Florida since Emmitt Smith’s 96-yarder against Mississippi State in 1988.
Perine finished with a career-high 130 yards on 14 carries and had Smith waiting to congratulate him afterward.
The senior from Theodore, Alabama, closed out Florida’s 10th consecutive victory. But Florida’s defense really carried the team.
Jon Greenard and David Reese were the stars of the show for Florida, which has given up a measly 16 points in four home games this season.
The Gators kept JaTarvious Whitlow in check and harassed freshman quarterback Bo Nix, whose father, Patrick, upset top-ranked Florida in Gainesville in 1994.
“That’s the kind of defense we expect to play around here,” Florida coach Dan Mullen said.
Auburn (5-1, 2-1) finished with 269 yards — the ninth-fewest in coach Gus Malzahn’s seven seasons —and converted just 2 of 14 third-down tries. The Tigers also had four turnovers and six three-and-outs.
“We just didn’t get it done offensively,” Malzahn said. “That starts with me. I’ve got to do a better job of having our guys ready. ... Any time you turn the ball over four times on the road, you’re going to have a tough time winning.”
Nix completed 11 of 27 passes for 145 yards, with a touchdown and three interceptions — his first turnovers since the season opener. He was sacked twice, once for a 22-yard loss in which he looked completely lost.
Auburn’s biggest problem was staying on its feet.
Nix found Seth Williams for a 46-yard gain in the third quarter, but he overthrew him just enough that Williams had to make a leaping catch. Nix threw an interception in the end zone three plays later.
Equally disappointing for the Tigers: star defensive tackle Derrick Brown sacked Kyle Trask on the final play of the first quarter. The 318-pound Brown, widely considered a top-10 NFL draft pick in April, picked up the loose ball and rumbled 42 yards before stumbling without anyone touching him.
“The environment, the crowd did get to us,” Malzahn conceded, pointing to his team’s nine penalties.
More than 90,500 were on hand for Florida’s homecoming and the debut of its throwback uniforms from the 1960s.
Mullen celebrated by jumping around with his high school buddies in the south end zone — just a few feet from where Perine crossed the goal line. He then kissed his wife, hugged the school president and handed his sweat-soaked visor to a young fan.
He really let loose in the locker room, dancing and chanting with players.
As for Perine’s performance against the team that didn’t want him?
“Isn’t that crazy?” Mullen said.
Auburn: Nix showed signs early that he was in for a long day. The sellout crowd made it difficult for him to hear, forcing him to relay play calls individually to every member of his offense.
Florida: The Gators have a defense capable of winning a championship. They’ve got the ideal combination of rush and cover to give any opponent fits.
Florida will remain in the top 10 of the AP college football poll for the fourth consecutive week. Auburn likely will fall out of the top 10.
Trask was knocked out of the game in the second quarter when Brown landed low on his left leg. Trask walked to the locker room and later returned to a raucous ovation.
He completed 19 of 31 passes for 234 yards and two touchdowns, including a 64-yarder to Freddie Swain on the team’s second play. Trask also fumbled three times.
Mullen said Trask sprained a ligament, but should be fine.
Mullen also was visibly upset after running back Dameon Pierce was knocked out of the game on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Britt.
“We have rules in place to protect players,” Mullen said.
WILD FIRST HALF
The first half included five turnovers and a questionable fourth-down call. During one seven-play stretch spanning the first and second quarters, there was a muffed punt, a sack/fumble and an interception.
Leading 14-6, Mullen seemed to be looking for a knockout punch when he called for a fake punt on fourth-and-3 at his own 34. Punter Tommy Townsend danced left and right behind the line of scrimmage and was stopped well short.
The Tigers scored on the next play. It seemed like a turning point, but the Gators responded.
Auburn gets a week off before playing at Arkansas. The Tigers have won three straight and five of the last six in the series.
Florida plays at No. 5 LSU next Saturday night. The Tigers have won four of the last six and six of nine in the series.