After escaping with a less-than- impressive win in their season opener, the Florida Gators put their national ranking on the line as they take on the Texas A&M Aggies in College Station on Saturday afternoon.
In its opener at home, Florida found itself tied with the Bowling Green Falcons of the Mid-American Conference, 14-14, midway through the third quarter. A sense of urgency kicked in for the Gators however, and they scored the final 13 points of the game to pull out a 27-14 victory.
Texas A&M was one of the few teams in the country that did not play in week one as its season opener at Louisiana Tech was postponed due to the impact of Hurricane Isaac in the gulf region, and it's now set to play its first game as a member of the SEC. In 2011, as a member of the Big 12 Conference, the Aggies finished a modest 7-6, although they posted0 impressive wins on the road at Texas Tech (45-40) and Iowa State (33-17), and at home against Baylor (55-28). The early-season success resulted in a ranking as high as No. 16.
These two teams have faced each other twice before, but not since the 1977 Sun Bowl when Texas A&M claimed a 37-13 victory.
Florida's offense was average at best against Bowling Green, gaining 365 yards while converting just 5-of-16 third downs. The Gators also managed only one touchdown in the red zone.
Jeff Driskel took the majority of the snaps at quarterback. He completed 10- of-16 passes for 114 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown pass to Frankie Hammond in the fourth quarter. Jacoby Brisset (3-of-5, 31 yards) also saw time under center, although Driskel remains the starter.
Mike Gillislee ran wild on the afternoon, tallying career highs in carries (24) and yards (148). He also ran in two first-half touchdowns. Hammond was the Gators' leading receiver with 62 yards.
Head Coach Will Muschamp will be expecting more from his offense in the coming weeks.
"As our competition heats up a little bit, we have got to be able to open up our offense more," Muschamp said. "You have to understand that it is not just about what we did here in game one."
The Gators defense was a step ahead of the offense, allowing just 14 points and 327 yards of total offense. The unit also allowed BGSU to convert less than 25 percent of its third-down attempts.
Marcus Robinson made a timely interception in the fourth quarter to help seal the deal for the Gators. Jon Bostic made eight tackles and Dominique Easley recorded the team's lone sack.
The Aggies had a potent offensive attack last season, ranking 11th in the FBS in scoring (39.6 ppg) and seventh in total offense (497 ypg). Both numbers would have topped the SEC last season, but now the unit has to transition from playing against the traditionally-soft Big 12 defenses to facing hard-nosed units that reside in the SEC.
Filling the large shoes left by record-setting quarterback Ryan Tannehill (3,744 yards, 29 TDs) won't be easy, but that's exactly what Johnny Manziel expects to do. He'll become the first freshman QB to start a season opener for the Aggies since 1944.
"My policy is simple really -- the best player plays," First-year head coach Kevin Sumlin said, who anointed Manziel the starter over Jameill Showers and Matt Joeckel. "Competition is a great thing and we need more competition at all of our positions. All of our quarterbacks have competed well, and I expect them to continue to push Johnny."
Fortunately for Manziel, he will have two high-impact playmakers to throw to, as Ryan Swope had one of the greatest receiving seasons in school history with 89 catches, 1,207 yards and 11 touchdowns -- earning Second Team All-Big 12 honors. Opposite Swope is fellow senior Uzoma Nwachukwu, who started all 13 games in 2011 and compiled 50 catches for 639 yards and two touchdowns. The Aggies run plenty of three- and four-receiver sets, so Kenric McNeal (eight catches, 101 yards) and freshman Mike Evans also figure to get plenty of playing time.
The loss of Cyrus Gray (1,105 yards, 12 TDs) means that Christine Michael takes over as the team's No. 1 running back. Michael had a fantastic season in 2011 while splitting carries with Gray, gaining 920 yards (6.0 ypc) and scoring eight touchdowns. With an increased workload behind a veteran offensive line, Michael should eclipse those numbers this fall.
Texas A&M's potent offensive attack was coupled with a defensive unit that performed below average last year. It's scoring yield (28.7 ppg) and total defensive effort (386.5 ypg) would be considered poor by any conference's standards, but in the SEC, those numbers rank well toward the bottom.
The pass rush was A&M's biggest strength last season, and defensive end Damontre Moore is hoping to improve upon a fantastic sophomore season in which he recorded 72 tackles, 17.5 tackles for loss, 8.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. Outside linebacker Sean Porter is also used to disrupting things in the backfield, tallying 79 tackles, 17 tackles for loss, and a team-high 9.5 sacks.
Linebacker Jonathan Stewart returns to the fold after leading the team with 98 tackles in 2011. Safety Steven Terrell (24 tackles, two interceptions) is the lone returning starter in the secondary, and he will be joined by three sophomores in corners Floyd Raven and Deshazor Everett, and safety Howard Matthews.