It was a tale of two halves for the No. 23/24 Florida Gators on Saturday as they faced the Texas A&M Aggies for the first time in 35 years at Kyle Field in College Station, TX. Florida (2-0) struggled defensively in the first half but was dominant in the latter portion of the game, stifling Texas A&M (0-1) offensively and coming away with a 20-17 victory in the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams.
Senior running back Mike Gillislee led the Gators with 83 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries but missed most of the second half after seemingly pulling his groin on his second score. Joining him as an effective member of Florida’s offense was sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, who made his first career start but still went 13/16 for 162 yards and made plenty of plays with his legs.
The Aggies’ offense was led by freshman QB Johnny Manziel, who was 23/30 for 173 yards and carried the ball 17 times for a net of 60 yards with a touchdown. Senior RB Christine Michael also chipped in 13 carries for 33 yards and a score for Texas A&M.
The Gators defense allowed 270 yards of offense and 17 first-half points but clamped down at the end of the game, holding the Aggies scoreless and allowing them to register a total of 64 yards of offense.
Florida’s defense looked dominant on the first two plays of the game, but a 16-yard rush by Manziel followed by a personal foul penalty on sophomore cornerback Marcus Roberson gave Texas A&M the ball across midfield.
The Aggies then converted on a 4th-and-1 before being stopped in the red zone as junior safety Matt Elam and Roberson broke up consecutive fade passes. TAMU was forced to settle for a 27-yard field goal and take an early 3-0 lead.
The Gators answered back immediately with a 13-play, 75-yard touchdown drive led by Driskel. He moved Florida down the field nicely, but UF was put in a tough spot when sophomore fullback Hunter Joyer was stopped short on 3rd-and-1 at the 16-yard line.
Florida executed a fake field goal run with junior running back Trey Burton, and a personal foul facemask added to the end of the play put the Gators in scoring position. Two plays later Burton took a Wildcat snap and handed it off to Gillislee, who tumbled into the end zone with 3:51 left in the first quarter.
Read the rest of the Florida-Texas A&M game story…after the break!
Texas A&M then started piling the points on as Florida saw injuries mount with five players leaving the field over the course of two drives.
The Aggies first responded to the Gators’ touchdown with a 13-play, 81-yard drive that ended with Manziel juking and running into the end zone from 10 yards out.
Florida was unable to move on the ball on their next possession with Driskel being sacked three times on the drive before they were forced to punt.
Texas A&M took advantage of UF stalling on offense by stringing together a 10-play, 79-yard touchdown drive – extended by Florida’s second personal foul penalty of the game – that gave TAMU a 17-7 lead with 7:01 remaining in the first half.
A 30-yard catch-and-run by redshirt junior tight end Jordan Reed put the Gators in field goal range on their next possession. After Driskel shot the offense in the foot by taking a seven-yard loss on the ensuing third down, redshirt senior kicker Caleb Sturgis connected on a 51-yard field goal to put his team within a touchdown.
Florida opened up the second half with the ball and drove down the field quickly, using a 24-yard run by Gillislee to cross midfield. Four plays later the Gators had 1st-and-Goal on the 10-yard line, but redshirt senior wide receiver Frankie Hammond, Jr. dropped a slant pass in the end zone on 3rd-and-Goal. Sturgis connected on a 25-yard field goal to cut Florida’s deficit to 17-13 early in the third quarter.
The Gators defense forced the Aggies into consecutive three-and-outs to start the second half, but the offense was unable to take advantage of the big stops by putting points on the board. Driskel, in fact, was taken down for his sixth and seventh sacks of the game at the end of what had the makings of being a nice drive.
Florida’s defense followed by registering its third-straight defensive stand of Texas A&M. The Gators offense finally responded with Driskel completing a 37-yard pass to redshirt senior TE Omarius Hines to put UF in the red zone almost immediately. Two plays later, Gillislee took a toss 12 yards into the end zone for a touchdown but pulled up lame holding his groin; Florida jumped on top 20-17 with 13:05 to play.
The Gators and Aggies traded possessions from there with Texas A&M once again struggling to move the ball. Florida took over for the final time pushed back on their own seven-yard line with 3:13 left in the game but immediately got 15 yards of breathing room thanks to a facemask penalty.
Patton ran for another first down to put UF on their own 45-yard-line with 1:40 remaining before Driskel iced the game with a 21-yard bootleg run to the outside.
The Gators not only clamped down defensively but also made serious progress in the area of discipline. After commitng three first-half penalties for 21 yards, Florida was not flagged the remainder of the game. On the other hand, Texas A&M saw nine flags in the air and lost 78 total yards because of them.
The Aggies outgained the Gators overall (334-306), but Florida held the advantage on the ground (141-134) thanks to expert running by Gillislee and some nice moves in the second half from Driskel.
Despite UF having the better defensive game, Texas A&M registered eight sacks for 48 yards due to a combination of poor offensive line protection and Driskel holding onto the ball too long on occasion.
Gators head coach Will Muschamp won the first game of his career when trailing at halftime and is now 9-1 in his UF career against unranked opponents.
Florida saw 10 players go down on the field with injuries throughout the contest though as of press time it only appeared as if four were potentially serious. Gillislee, after injuring his groin on the touchdown, did not return to the game. Gators redshirt junior Will linebacker Jelani Jenkins (arm), senior safety Josh Evans (shoulder) and redshirt sophomore tackle Chaz Green (cramps) also left and did not return to the field.
Florida will remain on the road next week when they travel to Knoxville, TN to take on Tennessee on Saturday at 6 p.m. live on ESPN.
Photo Credit: David J. Phillip/Associated Press