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Texas A&M 41, Florida 38: Gators’ dreadful defense eviscerated in loss

Florida’s offense did almost everything it needed to do to beat Texas A&M on Saturday. The Gators’ defense did almost nothing right.

NCAA Football: Florida at Texas A&M Scott Wachter-USA TODAY Sports

Through two games, the Florida Gators looked to have half of a great team, with a dynamic offense propping up a deficient defense.

Through three games, that’s still true — except that the defense was poor enough to prove fatal to Florida’s chances in a 41-38 loss at Texas A&M.

Florida’s offense did almost all of what it needed to do to win. Kyle Trask threw for 312 passing yards and another four touchdown passes, playing almost mistake-free football — his lone error, a terrible floated interception, was wiped out by a penalty — and the Gators picked up nearly four yards a carry on the ground. In putting up 38 points, they extended their streak of 35-point games to five, the program’s first since a string that spanned the end of the 2010 and beginning of the 2011 seasons.

But that offense wasn’t perfect, stalling once early in the third quarter and putting the ball on the ground late in the fourth on a Malik Davis carry.

And on this day, it needed to be.

That’s because Florida’s defense once again hemorrhaged yardage (543 yards of total offense) and series-extending conversions (12 on 15 tries), with Kellen Mond picking it apart through the air (25-for-35, 338 yards, two touchdowns) and Isaiah Spiller proving indomitable on the ground (27 carries, 174 yards, and two touchdowns), earning just one stop on a fumble punched free by Brad Stewart in the fourth quarter.

Florida’s offense converted that gift into six points, with Trask finding Dameon Pierce for a touchdown catch. But its defense could not hold the leads it was repeatedly staked to — 28-17 points in the third quarter, 38-31 with just over six minutes to go — thanks to an array of errors big and small. Mond was not sacked despite a number of attempts to bring pressure via blitzing, and a couple of near-interceptions slipped beyond defenders’ fingers or bounded off their hands.

And that defense gave up 40 yards and every second remaining on the clock on A&M’s final drive, one capped by a 26-yard field goal by Seth Small as time expired.

For now, Florida’s dreams for its season — visions of SEC or national titles, and of individual honors for offensive excellence — still remain theoretically alive, with running the table still likely to get the Gators anywhere they want to go.

A defense marked by errors has now erased the Gators’ margin for error this fall, however — a fitting extension of what it did on Saturday at Kyle Field.