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‘This is what The Swamp is’: Auburn struggles against pressure, noise from Gator fans

Early in the first quarter, Auburn quarterback Bo Nix received a play call from coach Gus Malzahn, who stood on the edge of the Auburn sideline. Nix had just thrown incomplete to receiver Seth Williams, and the seventh-ranked Tigers faced second-and-10.

The freshman signal-caller turned toward his offensive line, barking out commands. He’d likely noticed something in the Gators’ alignment that caught his attention. Maybe one of the linebackers was out of position, or perhaps Nix sensed that the No. 10 Gators were about to bring a blitz. Whatever he saw, he only had a few seconds to get the play changed. The clock was ticking down.

The 90,000-plus fans packed into The Swamp — most of them sporting a shade of blue rather than Auburn’s darker navy and orange — yelled at the tops of their lungs. A deafening roar. And Nix, behind his center, was running out of time. He shouted. Pointed. But nobody could hear him.

Nix did his best to tell each individual lineman the play call. He frantically sprinted across the line, barking commands to each person. But by then, it was too late. The clock neared zero, and Malzahn called a timeout, temporarily quieting the crowd. Temporarily.

“It was really loud and we had trouble hearing the clap for the cadence,” Nix said. “Sometimes we had slow communication. Stuff like that happens. Every team that walks into The Swamp has communication issues, but we just didn’t do anything to make up for those.”

Nix is right: Most teams that enter Florida’s home stadium encounter issues with pre-snap things like cadence, hearing the quarterback’s audibles and actually hearing the quarterback ask for the snap. This is all by design.

The Swamp is designed to magnify crowd noise. The playing surface at the stadium sits below ground level, and the bleachers essentially trap the noise in the stadium, concentrating the noise to the center of the field.

Malzahn did not shy away from the notion that the crowd noise affected his players. The Tigers had communication issues all afternoon. The noise caused at least three false starts. Malzahn said the Tigers had “four or five.”

“Too many,” according to the head coach.

“You expect that,” Malzahn said. “At this point, the thing for me is that we’ve been working with crowd noise since fall camp. This isn’t the only road game that we’ve got locked. We’ve got a couple others that are going to be similar. We didn’t handle it well. It’s disappointing and really surprising to me.”

The Tigers went 2-of-14 on third downs and committed nine penalties. Nix had a rough night, completing 11 passes for just 145 yards. He threw three interceptions, the crowd growing louder after each missed throw. His final throw of the day went straight to the hands of a Gators defensive back.

Yes, it got loud after that play, too.

“This is what The Swamp is and what it’s expected to be,” Gators coach Dan Mullen said. “It’s that home field advantage ... (the crowd) caused some penalties, created energy for our sideline and the energy in the stadium, the excitement.”

The worrying thing about Auburn’s struggles with Florida’s crowd noise is that the Tigers don’t have long until a road trip to No. 5 LSU’s Tiger Stadium. It’s a stadium appropriately nicknamed “Death Valley” and widely regarded as one of the loudest stadiums in college football.

Right next to The Swamp.

“It was really tough, obviously,” Nix said. “It was a tough environment. They are a really good team, a really good defense. Our defense played their butts off and they gave us all the chances in the world to win the game, and the offense just didn’t get it done.”

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Joshua Mixon is a reporter for the Ledger-Enquirer. He covers sports (Auburn and preps) and local news, and is a member of the Football Writers Association of America. He previously covered Georgia athletics for the Telegraph. You can follow him on Twitter @JoshDMixon.
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