GAINESVILLE — Auburn never had enough of an answer.
The Auburn offense went three-and-out or worse on eight of its first 10 drives on Saturday, and No. 10 Florida used enough firepower to drop the No. 7 Tigers 24-13 on Saturday afternoon in Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Bo Nix’s pass late in the third quarter was intercepted by Florida in the end zone as The Swamp erupted in what seemed like a do-or-die moment — and the Gators entered the fourth with the lead, not to be denied in the final frame.
Nix’s misfire came at maybe the worst possible time, just as Auburn’s offense finally came alive and drove 80 yards from its own 4-yard line on nine plays trailing 17-13. Just as the offense was finally rolling, the offensive line jumped out of position for a false start in the rocking Swamp to make it third-and-12 at the Florida 15.
Nix’s pick sent the stadium into a roar. Auburn did nothing with its fourth-quarter opportunity gifted to the offense by Derrick Brown, who caused and recovered a fumble. The Gators’ Lamical Perine then broke loose for a game-deciding 88-yard touchdown run to make it 24-13 with 9:04 left.
CBS cameras caught Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn doubling over and clutching his head in agony after that interception late in the third quarter. His team fell to 5-1 on the season and 2-1 in the SEC.
Florida moved to 6-0 and 3-0 in the SEC.
Auburn was held to just 242 total yards.
“We just didn’t get it done offensively and that starts with me,” Malzahn said after the loss. “I’ve got to do a better job preparing the guys and have our guys ready.”
Auburn’s offensive line jumped for three false starts feeling Florida’s dreaded home-field advantage, and the Tigers burned a first-half timeout while the offense struggled to communicate before a snap at the line of scrimmage.
Communication was only the start of the Tigers’ offensive problems. The offense went three-and-out without a first down on seven of its first 10 series, with another series ending on a second-play interception.
Nix finished with three interceptions. The last iced the game with 2:30 left. Both the first two proved costly. The first was returned 41 yards deep into Auburn territory and cashed in for a touchdown by the Florida offense two plays later to make it 14-6.
Auburn never held a lead.
“I felt like we left a lot out there on the field,” Nix said. “We had so many chances to do some things and we just let them get through our hands.”
Florida jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the opening moments when a crossing pattern behind a blitz by Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele rolled for a 64-yard touchdown from Kyle Trask to Freddie Swain.
In the fourth, that 88-yard touchdown run was the dagger. After the interception late in the third quarter, Brown forced a Florida turnover to give the Auburn offense another chance, down only four points. Auburn managed to cross midfield, but on third-and-8 from the Florida 36, Nix scrambled needing a big play and was brought down for a 22-yard loss.
Auburn’s defense forced four Florida turnovers (all fumbles) and a turnover on downs when Tanner Dean stopped a fake punt. The Tigers only managed to cash in that turnover on downs for a touchdown. Auburn finished with six points off turnovers, coming on two field goals.
“That was really tough,” Nix said. “Obviously, that was a tough environment. They were a really good team and a really good defense.
“Our defense played their butt off and they gave us all the chances in the world to win the game and the offense just didn’t get it done and the quarterback didn’t get it done.”
After that 22-yard fourth-quarter sack, Auburn’s punt pinned Florida down at the Gators’ 12-yard line, but that only set up the speedy Perine to break a tackle and break down the sideline for the sealing touchdown with 9:04 left as the Florida fans cheered into the afternoon air.
Auburn has an open date next Saturday before it travels to Arkansas and to LSU in the following two weeks.