It wasn’t pretty, but it was a win. The Florida Gators traveled to College Station, TX where they played a tough Texas A&M team and left with a victory.
On a day of firsts, sophomore Jeff Driskel got his first win in his first career start, the Gators opened up SEC play on the road and left 1-0 in conference play and the Aggies played their first SEC game and left with a loss. Welcome to the SEC.
Saturday’s game was a tale of two halves. The Florida defense, which finished last season ranked in the top 10 in the nation in total defense, struggled to stop ballyhooed redshirt freshman QB Johnny Manziel. The Gator’s front seven made life easy for the freshman in the first half, as they continually got washed up field and the speedy A&M QB was able to find running lanes for big yardage. Manziel accounted for 139 of his 173 yards passing in the first half, to which he added 55 yards on the ground and a touchdown.
[Related: Florida Tops Texas A&M in SEC Opener]
Florida was out of sorts. The Gators defense took a hit when redshirt junior outside linebacker Jelani Jenkins left the game with what we now know was a thumb injury. Jenkins had surgery today and is reportedly out for the next four games. Jenkins was not the only Gator to go down with an injury. Saftey Josh Evans left the game after getting walloped by an A&M running back. Evans had a team high eight tackles before he left the game in the second quarter.
Meanwhile, Florida failed to get much going on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line struggled to open holes in the interior of the defense for Mike Gillislee to run through, and Driskel was constantly harassed by a good Texas A&M pass rush. The gators did have success running the ball off tackle, but as Gillislee got tackled into the endzone for Florida’s first touchdown of the day, he tweaked his groin. Will Muschamp has stated Gillislee will be ready to go when Florida travels to Knoxville this weekend.
With Gillislee at less than 100%, the Gators needed a boost in the run game and found it with speedy WR Solomon Patton on the end around. Patton took three sweeps for 31 yards, including one for a first down late in the game when Florida needed to keep the chains moving.
Kicker Caleb Sturgis knocked a 51-yarder through the middle of the uprights – albeit on his second attempt as A&M called a timeout at the snap of the first attempt, which he knocked it off the right goal post – and the Gators headed into the locker room down 17-10.
A different Florida team emerged onto the field in the second half. The defense, which had been gashed in the first half, made the necessary adjustments in the locker room and showed up in a big way in the 3rd quarter. They forced A&M to punt on every one of its second half possessions. Manziel was not able to find the magic he had in the first 30 minutes.
The front seven for the Gators stayed home in their lanes which shored up the defense. The renewed Gators defense held the Aggies to just 65 total yards in the second half. Neiron Ball and Antonio Morrison stepped up after Jelani Jenkins went down with the injury, and showed the depth Florida has at the linebacker position this year. There is almost no visible drop off when the second team linebackers are in the game.
On the other side of the ball, sophomore Jeff Driskel started to look comfortable in the pocket. It would have been great to see him throw a couple balls away when he was being chased to the sideline, but don’t forget, this was his first start. He finished the day 13 of 16 for 162 yards and no turnovers. Driskel was able to find Omarius Hines for a 39 yard gain into A&M territory, setting up Gillislee’s second touchdown of the day. Not to mention, as Florida was trying to wind the clock down in the fourth quarter, it was Driskel who pulled the ball out of the belly of running back Mack Brown and took it 20 yards to put the game out of reach for the pesky Aggies.
Florida finally showed some of the toughness coach Will Muschamp (and all of the Gator faithful) has been dying to see. They fought through adversity, overcoming a 10 point deficit, and finished a tough road game with a win. This is the SEC, and after all, a win is a win.
Scenes from Saturday >> Florida Gators vs Texas A&M Aggies