Florida fans have been looking at the Gators' Saturday matchup with Texas A&M with significant trepidation. And that's been for good reason: Texas A&M is a good team, and Kevin Sumlin's Aggies could really and truly make or break the Gators' season.
But there are more than a few reasons that Florida will prevail on Saturday. Here are six.
Florida's "vanilla rust" should wear off
Florida didn't play very well on offense against Bowling Green. Players looked rusty and uncomfortable, and Brent Pease's offense stayed basically conservative despite deploying a variety of formations. If that is the true talent level of this offense — which is, in fairness, possible, if unlikely — then Pease will prove to be a terrible coach and Florida will struggle to average 20 points this year. I don't think it is, and I think a week of practice in the wake of that lackluster performance should help get things moving in the direction of competence, if not excellence.
Bowling Green was a wake-up call for defending the spread
Bowling Green was sort of a cupcake with a rock inside for Florida, and the Gators didn't do the best job of extracting the rock and chowing down. But one thing they did see was a well-realized spread offense, something they're going to have to defend against A&M and, later, Missouri. Florida got suckered by counters and draws in the running game, a bad sign, but it also prevented big plays in the passing game, the sort that crush a defense and lose a game. Can the Gators do the same against the Aggies now that they sort of know what they're up against?
Freed Gilly? Feed Gilly
The last time Florida had a running back hit 250 carries in a season was when Errict Rhett hit 250 on the nose in 1991. Tim Tebow never crested 220; Ciatrick Fason topped out at 222 in Florida's last 1,000-yard season on the ground; Earnest Graham ran it 240 times in 2002; Fred Taylor's high was 214. After one game, Mike Gillislee's on pace for 288 carries in 12 regular season games. He's Florida's primary option on offense, finally, and he should be used as such, especially against a green defensive line.
Letting Andre Debose fly
Florida's use of Debose as a punt returner against Bowling Green seemed like an admission to me: Our best playmaker isn't going to have shots to change games as a kick returner? Fine, he'll return punts. But that first part about him being Florida's best playmaker is true in the passing game, too: No one else in white on Saturday will have as much speed, and Florida will have to take the top off the defense at some point, or risk A&M relying on eight-man fronts that stifle Gillislee and limit short passing. I have faith that the noise about Debose not knowing the playbook or not working hard is more motivational than anything, and that Florida's coaches know how to deploy their arsenal instead of leaving the big guns in the shop.
Jeff Driskel's freedom to freelance
Dear blog friend Year2 has a fantastic look at Jeff Driskel's abilities as a scrambler that you should really go read, but my main problem with Driskel is one I haven't seen a solution for at this point. Driskel's best when he can move around, as I've seen repeatedly, and he looks dangerous when rolling out because he will, in fact, run upfield for yardage. But Driskel's been conservative in his approach more often than not since looking like a skittish colt last fall, hanging back in the pocket and trying to read the defense — I saw that in spring practice, in fall practice, and last Saturday.
I think some of that was because Driskel needed to prove he could do that to win the starting job; now that he has it, he should be able to breathe freely and play with a little more reckless abandon. Could that lead to turnovers? Possibly. Against SEC-caliber talent, though, offenses must take chances to make hay.
Florida doesn't lose in September ... unless it loses
Florida hasn't been 0-1 in my lifetime. (Just enjoying typing that again. Still neat!) More importantly, the Gators haven't been 1-1 since 2004, when a storm-based postponement made Tennessee the second tilt of the season. Florida started 1-1 in 2003 and 2002, too. (Remember Ron Zook? Good times.)
But those three losses were to Tennessee and Miami (twice, home and away), and the only other loss in Florida's second game since Steve Spurrier took the top job in Gainesville was in 1992, when Florida lost to Tennessee in its second game — and lost to Mississippi State the week after to dip to 1-2. (That's also the last time Florida had a losing record, just so you know.) Since Urban Meyer came to town in 2005, Florida is 28-2 in September games, losing only twice, to Auburn in 2007 and Ole Miss in 2008, and in The Swamp both times.
So you can use that 28-2 stat, and the seven consecutive years of 3-0 starts, and you can brag about 'em ... or you can look on the fact that Florida hasn't played more than two BCS-league foes in September and come out unscathed since 1995 and tremble. I'm gonna tend toward the former, and also note that Florida is used to heat like the possibly triple-digit clay-baking swelter it is walking into on Saturday, and that the Gators have already played in heat this fall.