For at least one half, football was fun again for No. 5 Florida.
The Gators used a variety of reverses, fancy formations and big plays to score all their points in the first half Saturday in a 24-3 victory over struggling Auburn.
Doug Johnson passed for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Receiver Travis McGriff ran for a score on an end-around and caught a 15-yard touchdown pass as the Gators (6-1, 4-1 Southeastern Conference) extended their home winning streak to 26 games.
Florida's last loss at the Swamp came to Auburn in 1994, but these are hardly the same Tigers.
On a play that seemed to define its season, Auburn (1-5, 1-4) fumbled away its first snap on offense. The exchange was between Colin Sears -- the sixth center the Tigers have used this year -- and sophomore quarterback Ben Leard.
Two plays later, Florida scored on a 32-yard pass from Johnson to Travis Taylor. It was the fourth straight game an Auburn opponent had converted a turnover into a 7-0 lead in the game's first three minutes.
From there, the Gators just seemed to be toying with their opponent, especially when Steve Spurrier brought back a version of the Emory & Henry formation he has employed in years past.
On one side of the field, a guard and tackle lined up wide with a receiver and running back directly outside of them. Two receivers split wide to the other side and just three linemen, a halfback and the quarterbak occupied the middle of the field.
| Auburn corner Jayson Bray breaks up a pass intended for Florida wide receiver Darrell Jackson during the first half of the Gators' 24-3 victory. (AP) |
The confusing set worked with only modest success against the SEC's top-ranked defense, but it surely gave future opponents something to worry about.
Auburn, meanwhile, spent most of the game just trying to get the basics down.
Leard also fumbled the second snap from Sears, but he recovered that one before Auburn went three-and-out.
In the second quarter, Tigers punt returner Clifton Robinson waved his entire team off a kick that came bouncing his way - then had the ball hit him in the leg for a turnover that resulted in a Florida field goal and a 24-3 lead.
Freshman quarterback Gabe Gross had more success than Leard in running Terry Bowden's watered-down offense, although neither quarterback got the Tigers in the end zone.
Gross led the Tigers on a 16-play, 70-yard march that ended when Florida cornerback Tony George intercepted Gross in the end zone in the third quarter. Late in the game, Gross drove the Tigers to the Florida 4 before they gave the ball up on downs.
Despite gaining the big early lead, the Gators were anything but perfect.
They committed three turnovers, got penalized for 93 yards and couldn't gain an inch on a fourth-and-1 from Auburn's 12-yard line in the third quarter.
Later in the quarter, Florida committed three straight penalties while trying to punt. Including an Auburn timeout, it took nearly five minutes to get the play off. It finally ended with the Tigers calling for a fair catch at their own 8, prompting Gators fans to break into a chorus of sarcastic cheers.
Auburn's first long drive followed, but after George's interception, Spurrier kept things basic.
So basic, in fact, that Florida threw just twice over the final 22 minutes - one of those was an interception - and heard more boos than cheers from the fans who bothered to stay around for the finish.
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