Florida trudged off the field down 17-10 in College Station, and with all of the questions that had been asked of this Gators team this week answered with "WELP." Could the Gators' line and Jeff Driskel put together a passing game? WELP. Could the Gators stop Kevin Sumlin's spread attack? WELP. Could the Gators survive in the hot and hostile cauldron of Kyle Field? WELP. As they walked into the locker room — directly by my fantastic seat — players' heads were fixed straight forward or down; Will Muschamp was doing one of his patented "I am only doing this interview because murdering you has legal ramifications" radio interviews.
And then Jeff Dillman, Will Muschamp's beloved lieutenant and strength and conditioning coach, walked by, four fingers raised, saying "Wait for the fourth quarter." I joked about wishing I didn't have to on Twitter — but then Florida's second half happened.
Driskel took a few more sacks, but Florida also dissected the A&M defense, and let the Aggies self-destruct with penalties. Mike Gillislee would eventually leave the game with injuries, but danced down the sideline for a touchdown that put the Gators ahead. The Gators' defense closed the holes that Johnny Manziel dashed through early on, and limited the Aggies' dink-and-dunk attack to nibbles of yardage instead of mouthfuls.
And the Gators faced down a talented team, a revved-up crowd (the stadium PA announced attendance at 87K and change, good for the ninth-largest crowd in A&M history), and a touchdown deficit, and turned it all into a 20-17 win that sure feels like the biggest one they have delivered under Muschamp.
After the game, Muschamp noted that this Gators team did what the 2011 team might not have. "Last year, I don't know, man," Muschamp said. "I don't know if we win that game." I don't, either, but I suspect that Florida fans realized today or will realize shortly that these Gators strongly resemble the team we were going to eventually get in the Muschamp Era: A hard-running, hard-working, adjustment-acing squad that does not kill itself with mistakes. Florida fans were waiting for that team to show up, and for Florida to win a "big" game to prove it.
The wait for both of those things is over. And when waiting is filled, to paraphrase John Heinlein, it feels damn good.
I promise I'll get a Rapid Recap up at some point, but this may be the only post tonight.