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October 13, 2006
Game of the Week: No. 2 Florida at No. 11 Auburn
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Auburn refused to spend the week stewing over its stunning loss to Arkansas.
The Tigers' schedule wouldn't allow it.
"We don't have time to sit on our butts and feel sorry for ourselves," Auburn linebacker Will Herring told AuburnSports.com. "We've got one of the hottest teams in the nation coming here Saturday. I'm excited about having a big-shot team coming in here (so) that we can hopefully gain some respect back that we lost."
First, the Tigers must find a way to beat a Florida team that may be playing better than anyone in the country. The Southeastern Conference rivals square off for the first time in four years Saturday at Jordan-Hare Stadium (7:45 p.m., ESPN).
Nobody doubted Florida's talent before the season, but the Gators were often dismissed as a national-title contender because of a brutal schedule that included a four-game stretch against Alabama, Louisiana State, Auburn and Georgia.
Florida already has defeated Alabama and LSU. The Gators (6-0, 4-0 SEC) look stronger than Georgia, which has dropped seven of its last eight meetings with Florida.
That leaves No. 11 Auburn (5-1, 3-1 SEC) as the second-ranked Gators' biggest remaining obstacle.
Florida's schedule doesn't get a whole lot easier at the end of the month. The Gators still have a Nov. 11 home date with South Carolina, Nov. 25 road trip to Florida State and a possible appearance in the Southeastern Conference championship game.
But that hasn't stopped Florida fans from dreaming of a possible national championship, even if the players themselves aren't looking ahead.
"All season we've been looking at the opponent we play that week and concentrating on just them," Florida linebacker Brandon Siler said. "That is what has gotten us here, and we aren't changing that and thinking ahead now. I'd be disappointed if I had to talk to guys on the team about (not) looking ahead, but I don't have to. I think that is a sign of a mature team."
Florida has absolutely no reason to look beyond this week. Auburn promises to offer the Gators their toughest test of the season.
Auburn was ranked second in the nation before falling to Arkansas. The Tigers have one of the nation's top running backs (Kenny Irons), two of the best offensive guards (Ben Grubbs and Tim Duckworth) and one of the toughest cornerbacks (David Irons).
No wonder Gators coach Urban Meyer didn't have to remind his players much about the need to stay focused.
"One thing about our players is they're smart," Meyer said. "All you have to do is flip on the (Auburn) film and see one of the most talented teams in the country and one of the most hostile venues in the country."
The strategy that worked for Arkansas last week also might not help Florida.
Florida doesn't utilize its running game nearly that much. The Gators also remain unsure of the status of leading rusher DeShawn Wynn, who expects to play this weekend after not carrying the ball against LSU because of a sprained knee.
But the Gators offer their own unique matchup problems. Instead of alternating tailbacks, the Gators rotate quarterbacks.
Chris Leak is more of a classic passer who has completed nearly 65 percent of his attempts and has 14 touchdown passes. True freshman backup Tim Tebow offers an additional dimension with his running ability.
Tebow has averaged 5.6 yards per carry this season. He accounted for every Florida touchdown last week by throwing for two scores and rushing for a third.
"They have done a good job of game planning and knowing when to put (Tebow) in," Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville said. "He's been very efficient as a young quarterback in not making mistakes, of being patient and following blockers. He's tough to get. He's a big old boy. He's a big kid. He's very physical and makes you think he's a big tailback running the football and not a quarterback type.
"It gives them a good one-two punch."
Florida's one-two punch could knock Auburn out of the BCS picture.
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