Florida defeated Texas A&M, 20-17, in the Gators' SEC and road opener on Saturday. We've looked back at the game in at multiple parts: The Rapid Recap, usually our first look before a second viewing, comes last.
FlaGators touched on this earlier today, but Florida's win over Texas A&M was really about recovering from a bad first half with a very good second half. And, let me tell you, that's a lot of fun to watch on the road.
How Florida Won
Florida scored the final 13 points of Saturday's game, chipping away with a field goal in the second quarter, a field goal in the third, and a touchdown courtesy of Mike Gillislee in the fourth quarter. But the drive that sealed the Gators' win was their last one on defense, one that could have ended in heartbreak: Trey Williams ran for seven yards on the first play to start it, Johnny Manziel ran for five more and a first down (just the Aggies' second of the second half) to terrify most of the Florida fan base, another pass to Mike Evans got A&M its second first down of the drive ... and then nothing. The Gators didn't break, didn't really even bend, and only let the Aggies get to their own 41. Florida forced a punt and ran out the clock. That was the cherry on top of a sensational defensive performance in the second half of Saturday, and while it's a drive that may well be forgotten, because no one shows teams forcing punts in highlights, it was the door-slam moment for this defense and this game.
Florida, in total, played a bad first half and a very good second half, and that very good second half should probably be credited to two people: Will Muschamp and Jeff Dillman. Muschamp apparently let his players know some things at halftime, but he and Dan Quinn also adjusted their defense to the A&M attack, and to Manziel's mobility, and so the Aggies had no drives of more than 22 yards after halftime after having four drives of 44 or more yards before it. That wouldn't have been possible without the shape these players are in, far better under Dillman in 2012 than it was under Mickey Marotti in 2011, and the Gators' performance certainly justified Dillman's "Wait until the fourth quarter" proclamation. Florida hasn't exactly roared out of the gate yet in 2012, but the Gators have outscored opponents 23-7 in the second half and 17-0 in the fourth quarter.
Gillislee is the most consistently enjoyable Florida running back who was not also a quarterback since Ciatrick Fason. Jeff Demps and Chris Rainey were good for a moment or two here and there, but each was a small, square peg in the gaping round hole where featured backs go; Emmanuel Moody, who could have been a workhorse, never quite panned out; DeShawn Wynn was not quite as good as one would have hoped. Gillislee seems to be about as good as we could have reasonably expected, and though he's being sabotaged by a line that is inconsistent, he's Florida's finest offensive skill position player by a significant margin. 83 yards on just 14 carries, two touchdowns of different flavors, and the second touchdown's timeliness made this Gilly's second consecutive superb outing.
It was hard to see defense from my semi-obstructed seat, and harder to get good replays on an inconsistent A&M video board, but Antonio Morrison has been a revelation for Florida early this season. All he did Saturday was record six tackles (five solo) in relief of Jelani Jenkins, equaling Michael Taylor and Jonathan Bostic for the highest tallies of tackles and solo tackles among Gators linebackers. Did I mention that Morrison is a freshman, a true freshman? Morrison was rated a four-star prospect by Rivals, but fell outside the service's top 200; that he is as capable and confident as he is at this point is a clue that Muschamp et al. grabbed a gem.
Jeff Driskel completed 13 of his 16 throws, and should have completed 14 but for Frankie Hammond's hands betraying him on a slant route. When he threw, he was accurate, and that's what a quarterback truly needs to be for maximum efficiency in Brent Pease's offense. The one bomb he uncorked to Omarius Hines was nice, but if Driskel's going to be Kellen Moore 2.0, that's fine by me. Another nice note: Driskel has been nowhere near throwing an interception in the last two weeks after a year with a few shaky throws in 2011.
Caleb Sturgis' 51-yard field goal in the second quarter was essentially the difference in the game. Having a kicker who can hit from 51 yards gives an offense confidence to take shots on third downs from the outer reaches of enemy territory. Caleb Sturgis is a very good thing for Florida.
The two plays made on consecutive fades by Marcus Roberson and Matt Elam in the first quarter might have seemed inconsequential at the time, but they saved Florida four points that could have swung the game. What's more, they came from two players who didn't always make plays like that in 2011, because of sloppy handiwork (Roberson) and some coverage deficiencies (Elam). Florida's secondary has been vulnerable underneath, but the Gators have one of the 14 defenses nationally that hasn't allowed a passing play of 30 or more yards and one of the 10 defense that hasn't allowed a passing touchdown. (The only two other schools to do so, Florida State and TCU, have yet to play an FBS opponent.)
The penalty issues were more or less not an issue this Saturday: Florida was flagged three times for 21 yards, with all three penalties coming in the first half. Roberson's personal foul in the first quarter was the most egregious one, as it wiped out a potential three-and-out on the opening drive that included stopping Manziel one yard short of converting third-and-17, but even that didn't prove ruinous, thanks in part to Roberson's own efforts.
After struggling to pressure and/or contain Manziel in the first half, Florida's defensive line turned up the heat in the second half. Christine Michael got just 33 yards on 13 carries, too, which was way under my expectations. I still don't think this line is operating at full capacity (Sharrif Floyd being without a sack is troubling, as well), but it's getting better.
Jordan Reed's five catches for 59 yards sounds like a baseline line for him as the year progresses. I'd guess he gets about seven or eight targets per game from here on out.
Solomon Patton had three carries for 31 yards; all three went for at least six yards and two went for first downs. He is a weapon and should be used.
Omarius Hines exists! His 39-yard catch is not his longest career reception (he caught a 42-yarder in The Trey Burton Game against Kentucky in 2010, and a 40-yarder against Vanderbilt in 2011), but hell, I'll take anything from him at this point. He's just too good an option to not be used.
Both Good and Bad
That field goal Sturgis made was on his second try, thanks to an idiotic timeout by Texas A&M. Florida still dwells in the domain of the good team that needs good luck to win games like these.
Florida's wide receivers beyond the two already mentioned as encouraging were not exactly great. Hammond dropped a sure touchdown, Quinton Dunbar had one 11-yard catch, Andre Debose did nothing in the passing game (though he apparently made a couple of nice blocks) ... and I guess Trey Burton's a wide receiver? There is no consistent big-play threat here like there could have been, no emerging freshman (Latroy Pittman? Raphael Andrades?) pushing the guys who seem cemented into their spots on the depth chart. Patton's basically a running back who runs sweeps at this point. And yet those wide receivers aren't getting Florida killed, and aren't making huge mistakes. I'm bearish on someone breaking out, but there's still some potential.
Florida's still at net zero turnovers for the year. (Remember NetZero?) That's a credit to the offense's scrupulousness with the ball, but also a reflection of the defense's inability to create a turnover.
Florida's offensive line was a mess for most of the first half and some of the second on Saturday. The Gators were especially soft in the middle in the run game, where there was little surge up front to open holes, and troubled at the tackle spots in the passing game, which allowed A&M players to chase Driskel into decisions he's not good at making just yet. That's the inverse of the strengths I would choose for a team on the line (I want tackles who can pass protect and a guard-center-guard trio that can push), and it's probably going to lose Florida a game very soon if Driskel can't improve his improvisation.
Related: Driskel desperately needs to figure out how not to take sacks. I know Muschamp and Pease and Driskel are all going to downplay how bad sacks are after a game in which Florida took eight and still won, but Driskel was sacked five times on 13 offensive snaps in the second quarter. That's just ridiculous, and it's on Driskel to figure out how to keep his options open on scrambles, how to get outside the tackle box and cock his arm, and how to avoid third-and-longs that his team is poorly equipped to handle. On the four drives on which Driskel took sacks, Florida scored three points and gained 52 yards; on the Gators' six other drives, they rolled up 286 yards and 17 points. "Sacks are drive-killers" is not rocket science.
While I'm sure that Dillman's conditioning was a good thing overall for Florida, the six or seven Gators that went down in the Texas heat (which was, uh, not that hot) do not reflect well on the team as a whole.
Debose nearly cost Florida the game with a fumble just feet from the goal line in the fourth quarter while trying to field a punt, and he looked generally uncomfortable as a punt returner just a week after excelling in the role. If Debose can't keep his brain focused for long enough to make an impact as a returner, man...
Josh Evans basically died:
Evans would leave the game, and the more I look at that, the more I think he got concussed on the play. But he did finish as Florida's leading tackler, and with a win, so there's that.
That's what I saw. What'd you see? I'll be in the comments most of the night.