I admittedly am not the most religious person in the world. I celebrate the Jewish traditions, I understand where I come from and every now and then I come together with a large group of people both similar and different than me to celebrate something greater than ourselves.
To me, religion is a lot like College Football.
On Saturday, 90,584 people from all walks of life came together to witness something that some find trivial and others find more meaningful than anything in their lives. They came to watch a football game between the Florida Gators and Auburn Tigers. A game that no Gator fan will soon forget.
There is a great line from the Gators pregame hype video that says “We woke up not in bedrooms but in shrines.” I have a feeling that in the Cathedral we call Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and in bedrooms all over Gator Nation, there will soon be shrines to the 24-13 win the Gators put together on Saturday.
It was a special day in The Swamp. It had that feeling coming in and it did not disappoint. I wrote in my article leading up to the game that the Gators had more to prove than any team in the country and to say this was a statement win would be selling what the Gators did short.
Talking about the overall statement the Gators made would be pointless, beating a Top 10 team in that kind of fashion speaks for itself. Instead, I want to take a deeper dive into the five biggest things that the Gators proved with their sloppy, yet dominant victory over Auburn.
5. Lamical Perine is still the best running back on the team
The run game had been inefficient all year until the Gators needed it most.
Lamical Perine finally broke a long one and made an 88-yard house call that put the game on ice with nine minutes left. A lot of people have been calling for more from Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis, but it was Perine who broke through with the most important run from a Gator running back this season (the clincher against Kentucky was Josh Hammond on a jet sweep).
It’s been a tough year for Perine and a lot of it has to do with the blocking he’s had in front of him. It’s impossible to be as productive as Perine was last year with the kind of protection he’s had this year, so him getting a lot of heat was always something that felt was uncalled for.
It was wonderful to see Perine produce one of the biggest moments of the season so far and you could tell it meant a lot to him and his teammates that he got to have that moment. There’s a great video of the run where you can see fellow Alabamian Kadarius Toney in a sling running down the sidelines right behind Perine celebrating when he realized he was gone. It was a beautiful moment for the whole team but definitely had to feel amazing for Perine, who showed why he is still the number one back on the depth chart.
4. The Gators can still win despite the QB
My opinion on Kyle Trask is well known if you follow me on Twitter. He has no doubt impressed but I still stand by the fact that Feleipe Franks was the right guy for the job before he got hurt. That showed a little bit more than it has in his first few games on Saturday. Trask took three strip-sacks that could have really done the Gators in had the Tigers taken advantage and his lack of mobility showed.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is Trask played his worst game of the year and not only was it not that terrible, the Gators still won despite his performance. Trask threw the ball well as we’ve seen from him since he took over and lead some good drives that gave the Gators points at crucial times. As killer as the turnovers were, the Gators were able to make up for it by winning the possession battle and a stellar defensive performance, which we’ll talk about now.
3. The Gators defense has an argument for best in the country
As much as I’d love to write an entire article about how Bo Nix was severely overrated entering the game (did you know his dad beat Florida before he was born?) it’s time to stop the jokes and give the Gators defense the credit they deserve.
The Gator defense came out with something to prove on Saturday. It was clear from the first play of the game when Jonathan Greenard ran untouched past the Auburn offensive line and forced Nix to desperately get rid of the ball as he drove him into the ground.
All the noise leading up to the game was about the Auburn defense and especially their front seven. Before the game, an Auburn fan sitting next to me told me that the Gators had never seen a defense like Auburn’s. It was clear that the Gators defense was the one the other team had never seen anything like.
After picking up two more sacks and three more interceptions on Saturday, the Gators are now tied for 2nd in the country in sacks with 24 and tied for 1st in the country in interceptions with 12. They rank 17th in total defense and 5th in scoring defense, and did not allow a score in the 2nd half. The one touchdown the Gators allowed on Saturday was their first in 10 quarters and was basically gifted to the Tigers by a poor fake punt attempt.
It was interesting that the Gators defense was so dominant without using Todd Grantham’s usual aggressive tactics. According to Auburn beat writer Josh Vitale on Twitter, Bo Nix dropped back 35 times on Saturday and the Gators sent more than four rushers only five times. They never sent more than five. That is very uncanny from Grantham, but it shows this defense can be dominant in many ways.
The secondary stepped up and played their best game of the season, forcing Bo Nix to finally look like the true freshman that he is. CJ Henderson showed why he has Top 10 pick potential as he brought out the chains in his first game back from injury. Marco Wilson had an interception and looked good all game. And good for Donovan Stiner, ridiculed all season long for his suspect play in coverage at times, who earned himself a great moment when he picked Nix off in the end zone.
Auburn did everything they could to capitalize on the Gators early mistakes and the defense simply would not let them do it. It was an impressive performance that showed they are arguably the best defense in the country.
2. The Swamp is back
After weeks of questions regarding the student section of the stadium and empty seats at kickoff, Florida students and Gators fans made one of the strongest statements of them all.
There was an energy in that stadium from the start that had not been felt in a very long time. Not even the LSU game from last season compared to the buzz that filled that stadium from start to finish. The deafening crowd noise was constant from kickoff until the clock struck 0:00, rattling Auburn's offense and feeding the Gators with energy and momentum. Some Auburn fans went on to speculate that Florida was even pumping noise artificially, which was not true.
I’ve always had the theory when it comes to announcing that at times it’s better to shut up and let the crowd do the talking. Sometimes you just don’t have the words. Sometimes words can’t do it justice. This was one of those times.
1. The Gators are Back
What else is there to say really? These are the types of games that the Gators won back in the glory days I talked about last week. They’re now 4-1 against Top 25 teams and 3-1 against Top 10 teams since Dan Mullen returned to The Swamp - the only loss coming in a neutral site game to arch-rival Georgia.
These are the types of games we are going to start getting used to again in Gainesville. A warm, sunny October day where 90,000+ pack into The Swamp to watch two of the best teams in the country go to work. Games where you grind a team out for 60 minutes and show not only why you are the better team, but why you belong among the elite football programs in the country.
People have always said that football is like a religion in the SEC, and when you think about it, they’re not that far off.
The difference is, in Gainesville, we get out our Saturday best and rise for "We Are The Boys".
The similarity? To some, the Gators being back means more than anything in the world.