No. 23/24 Florida Gators football (2-0, 1-0 SEC) struggled in the first half but turned things around in the final 30 minutes and defeated the Texas A&M Aggies (0-1, 0-1 SEC) on Saturday afternoon in both teams’ Southeastern Conference opener at Kyle Field in College Station, TX. After the game head coach Will Muschamp discussed what occurred on the field and in the locker room.
MUSCHAMP’s OPENING STATEMENT
“It was a good win for our team. The guys continue to fight hard and play the game and play it for 60 minutes. And it wasn’t always pretty – first half defensively. Third down was an adventure. You’ve got to give them credit. Johnny Manziel is a fantastic athlete. He’s a guy that really has got legs and he extended plays and made plays for them. You got to give him credit. A lot of off-rhythm plays, very difficult to defend. We did a better job in the second half of controlling the line of scrimmage. That was the difference. There was no magic potion. We came in and told the guys just to squeeze blocks, play thicker on blocks, quit running up the field. You get an illusion that these guys are a passing football team and really they’re not right now with Johnny. They’re a running football team; a screen, short, controlled passing game. He’s going to have high percentages in every game because of the throws that they’re making and asking him to do.
Offensively I thought we ran the ball extremely well. Obviously whether it was protection, holding the ball too long at the quarterback position or we had a busted route I know on one of the sacks where the ball should have gone – we got to get that stuff cleared up. A 3rd-and-1 late in the game was critical for us; we did not convert, which was very disappointing. But we ran the ball well, we stayed balanced in the game, and we moved the football. Coming into this environment, which is a pretty solid environment, I thought our guys responded well, hung in there and did what we had to do to win the game.
Guys, we’re going to have a lot of games like this now. It’s just who we are. We’re going to grind it out. We’re going to win. That’s what we kind of are as a mentality as a football team as we continue to grow and mature through the year.”
WINNING THE FOURTH QUARTER
SEC opponents outscored the Gators 72-22 in the fourth quarter during Muschamp’s first season in 2011. Florida was much better not only in the fourth quarter but in the entire second half on Saturday, coming from behind out of the break for the first time in Muschamp’s tenure (1-5). The coach undoubtedly noticed this improvement and praised his team for its efforts.
“The second half we just played more disciplined football. They were 0-for-6 on third down; we forced six punts. We did a nice job of flipping the field in some situations,” he said. “[We] really won the game on offense there at the end. When they knew we were going to run it, we ran it. We had to run it. The 3rd-and-1 [failure] was disappointing but other than that, heck man, when you line up and are able to run the football and people know you’re going to run it, that’s what you have to do.”
He continued, “Last year, I don’t know, man. I don’t know if we win this ballgame. As far as running the football when you had to [in order] to win. Making stops defensively when you had to. Doing the things you got to do to win football games.”
Muschamp said the biggest change defensively in the second half was the defensive line. Florida’s aggressiveness was hurting them as Texas A&M invited the rushers to run up the middle while Manziel hit the creases that were created by those actions.
“I told them, ‘I’m firing you if you run up the field again. Sit on the line of scrimmage, squeeze blocks inside and quit running up the field. That’s what you want to do. Just sit on the line of scrimmage and get your hands on people and play thick on people. If you’ll do that then we won’t have run lanes anymore.’ And we didn’t have any run lanes in the second half,” he explained.
Muschamp called the final possession the “happiest moment in Florida history for me – that and the Ohio State game,” noting that being able to run it successfully when your opponent knows that is your intention puts a smile on his face. He was also ecstatic about the victory as a whole, especially one coming in such a tough road environment.
“I told our team, ‘I’m not big into those sort of things.’ With all of our hospitality in the SEC, we’re trying to make everybody happy. Everybody wanted the glory story here with A&M and they didn’t get it. I’m very proud of our team to come in here, play well and do what we had to do to win the game,” he said.
“We played two games and we’re 2-0. That’s what you’re supposed to be.”
”I’M NEVER GOING TO…APOLOGIZE FOR WINNING”
Read the rest of the Florida-Texas A&M post-game report…after the break!
Perhaps no coach in the country received more grief over the last seven days than Muschamp, who was criticized for admittedly handcuffing the offense against Bowling Green and only leading his team to a 27-14 victory over a squad that arguably should have been beaten by much more.
Muschamp was not only unapologetic but also quite fiery when he went off on a mini-rant about the team’s week one contest on Saturday.
“I know I got killed for last week but there’s a reason why we did it, because we had a superior football team than Bowling Green. Nothing against those guys. But we needed to play that way in order to play that way this week in this ball game,” he said before ramping up his volume.
“It’s a long season! When they start having one-game seasons then we’ll start doing everything we can do. We’ll put everything we can into one game so we can win one game and all be really, really happy at the end! But I like to look at it as a 12-week season and we’ve got to do what we’ve got to do to improve our football team to win football games!”
Muschamp said he understands what Gators fans want from him but that, in the end, his job as a football coach is to produce wins no matter how the game looks or what the margin of victory winds up being.
“Winning at Florida is expected. I’m just saying the way you win sometimes [does not matter],” he explained. “At the end of the day, I’m never going to stand up and apologize for winning. I don’t know. I wasn’t raised that way.”
A total of 10 Florida football players went down at one time or another over the course of the contest. It was so bad, in fact, that Muschamp had to take a timeout in order to coach up a player before he headed into the game as an injury replacement.
“We lost a bunch of guys in the game. I had to take a timeout on punt return,” he said. “We were down to our third gunner at one point on punt return, which is the reason why I had to take a timeout. I wanted to make sure the young man knew what to do. I wasn’t sure he knew and in that situation I would have rather taken the timeout and make sure he knew exactly what we were supposed to do in that situation.”
Five Gators in particular had noteworthy injuries. Muschamp was not able (or chose not to) provide a lot of information after the game but he did offer some updates.
Redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins – Had his arm in a sling on the sidelines but apparently injured his thumb and had it casted after the game.
Senior safety Josh Evans – Got run-over near the goal line and went down immediately; got popped on the shoulder and did not return because he could not regain strength in the area.
Senior running back Mike Gillislee – Tweaked his thigh and hip early in the game and pulled up lame after his second touchdown grabbing his right groin. (Muschamp said he got “dinged” and did not provide any of that information.)
Junior cornerback Cody Riggs – Sprained his foot and should be fine.
Redshirt sophomore tackle Chaz Green – Had cramps, which he suffers from often.
NOTES AND QUOTES
» On Florida’s defensive issues in the first half: “[It’s your fault] when you’re letting people extend drives on you on third down. It was nothing complicated and it wasn’t like we didn’t know it was coming. We were trying to tell our guys. [Manziel] created some plays with his legs; a fantastic athlete.”
» On the team cutting down its penalties from 14 in week one to just three (all in the first half) against Texas A&M: “That’s a work in progress.”
» On what he said at halftime: “It was crystal clear. There was one guy talking, and I told them what they needed to do. Dan [Quinn] does a great job of conveying the message as well. Dan does an outstanding job, and he’s an outstanding football coach. Our guys need to start listening a little bit more sometimes. It’s not from a lack of effort or a lack of want-to. Guys, they want to do so much, they want to do too much. Just do your job. Just take care of our responsibilities. We don’t need you making the fanatic play. Just do your job. It happened a little bit in the first week and it happened in the first half of this game several times. Guys crossing face, trying to back-door blocks. They’re trying ot make plays. It’s not from a lack of effort. We just got to be a little bit more responsibility oriented with what our guys are trying to do. You don’t take anybody’s aggressiveness away; I have to be careful in how I manage this.”
» The Gators’ victory over the Aggies was Florida’s first win over an SEC West opponent since Oct. 24, 2009 when they defeated Mississippi State.