No. 18 Florida started slow defensively, but turned things around in the 2nd half to defeat SEC newcomer Texas A&M, 20-17.
Heading into halftime, the Gators trailed 17-7 and looked like they were on the ropes. A raucous A&M crowd was fueling a fired up Aggies’ team on the field. The coaching staff made fantastic half time adjustments, and did not allow the Aggies into the endzone in the second half.
Coming into Saturday’s game, most of the concerns were with Florida’s offense and the lack of big plays against Bowling Green. As the first half wore on, the concern turned from the offense to the once-vaunted defense, which couldn’t stop A&M. In the first half, the Aggies scored on every drive thanks to the athletic ability of freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, who tallied 173 yards through the air and 63 yards on the ground.
The big change made coming out of halftime by head coach Will Muschamp and defensive coordinator Dan Quinn was the pressure applied by the front seven/eight. Florida’s defensive line stopped rushing up the field, which was creating “mack truck” sized running lanes for Manziel to run through. The amount of blitzing was noticeably reduced, and the linebackers did a better job of spying Manziel, keeping him in check.
“I told them at halftime, I’m going to fire you if you run up the field again. I told them, sit on the line of scrimmage, squeeze blocks inside and quit running up the field. Just sit on the line of scrimmage and get your hands on people. If you do that, no running lanes anymore,” Muschamp said during his post-game press conference.
Florida lost several key players to injuries on Saturday, and at one point it seemed as if we might have to suit up the fourth string. Junior lineback Jelani Jenkins went down with an apparent shoulder injury in the 1st-quarter and spent the rest of the game in street clothes on the sidelines. Senior safety Josh Evans also went down with a shoulder injury during the 2nd half.
Florida also had cramping issues on both sides of the ball.
On offense, the Gators looked good. The running game was strong once again with senior halfback Mike Gillislee rushing for 83 yards on 5.9 yards per carry and two touchdowns. Florida ran the ball more often this week than against Bowling Green, with 48 total rushes on the game.
Sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel was sacked an abysmal eight times during the game. “I have to get rid of the ball”, Driskel responded when asked what he has to do to avoid sacks. He has to learn how to get rid of the ball when a play is dead, instead of stepping out out of bounds 3-yards behind the line of scrimmage.
Other than the untimely sacks, Driskel, for the most part, was very solid. He completed 13 of 16 passes for 162 yards. Junior tight end Jordan Reed was the primary target for Driskel grabbing 5 catches for 59 yards.
Driskel has the tools: a quick release, fantastic feet, and he showed the knack to stay composed when the pressure was on. If Pease can teach him to love the pocket, and step up instead of moving outside, Gator Nation will have themselves a gamer at the QB position for the next couple of years.
Next week the Gators travel to Knoxville, TN, to take on the Tennessee Volunteers at 6 p.m. on ESPN. Rocky Top will host ESPN College GameDay, marking the second consecutive week the Gators will be featured on the show.
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