EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the first story in a series on the 15 most memorable SEC football games beat writer David Paschall has covered since joining the newspaper in 1990. The games are being presented in chronological order.
The Southeastern Conference has never experienced a more profound change of eras than on Nov. 3, 1990, when the league's team of the 1990s convincingly ushered out its team of the 1980s.
Auburn entered the 1990 season having won three consecutive SEC titles, while Florida entered the same year after a mundane back half of the 1980s but with a confident and innovative new coach — Steve Spurrier. Pat Dye and his hard-nosed brand of Tigers were 6-0-1, ranked No. 4 nationally and were leading the SEC when they traveled to Florida Field for a prime-time showdown against the 6-1 and No. 15 Gators on ESPN, but Auburn was unaware of the ambush that awaited.
The Gators and Tigers played to a 7-7 standoff in the first quarter, but Florida erupted for 27 second-quarter points in an eventual 48-7 shellacking that would mark the worst loss of Dye's 12 seasons on the Plains.
"I knew that we could lose, but I did not foresee this," Dye said afterward. "This is most embarrassing, and I want to apologize to the players and their mamas and daddies and to the Auburn fans. We were the worst-prepared team in my 17 years of coaching."
The Dye regime never recovered from that humiliation, as Auburn stumbled to an 8-3-1 season that culminated with a bland topping of Indiana at the Peach Bowl inside Fulton County Stadium. The Tigers would go 5-6 in 1991 and 5-5-1 in 1992 to conclude Dye's dozen seasons that yielded 99 victories, four SEC titles and a stretch of four consecutive Iron Bowl wins.
Florida, meanwhile, showcased what would be the first of many riveting performances by an offense that eventually would be nicknamed the "Fun 'N' Gun" inside a venue that in 1992 would start being referred to as "The Swamp." Gators quarterback Shane Matthews completed 15 of 19 first-half passes for 147 yards, with Florida's second-quarter outburst enhanced by two interceptions of Auburn's Stan White and a 73-yard punt return by Terence Barber.
Spurrier's "Fun 'N' Gun" was birthed with Matthews and elevated by 1996 Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel and his collection of stellar wide receivers, but its aerial abilities often overshadowed the fact that a quality running back was needed to provide balance for full effectiveness. Errict Rhett would be that running back, amassing more than 4,000 yards from 1990-93 and pounding Auburn as a redshirt freshman with 15 carries for 142 yards and two touchdowns.
"I knew we could move the ball if Shane had time to throw," Spurrier said of the 450-yard offensive onslaught against a quality defense. "We had a lot of opportunities to make something happen."
Florida's defense was suffocating before a record crowd of 75,459, holding Auburn to 24 carries for minus-14 yards, the worst rushing performance in Tigers history. The 48 points tallied by the Gators were more than they managed in the previous five series meetings combined.
It was the end of Dye's marvelous tenure. It was the beginning of Spurrier's glorious run, and it was abrupt.
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