Unless you live in a cave, you know that Florida has a huge road game this weekend. The Gators travel to College Station, Texas to take on the Aggies in an SEC Showdown at 3:30. The game is big enough for the College GameDay Crew to make the trip over.
This game has been circled on my calendar for months, and I am very anxious for it to get underway. Head Coach Mike Sumlin, formerly at Houston, opens his inaugural season as the Aggies’ coach this Saturday. Much has been made of the electric atmosphere in Kyle Field. At SEC Media Days this summer, Coach Muschamp was asked about the video response College Station Mayor Nancy Berry made to his comment about playing at A&M. He asked the media: “You ever been to College Station? It’ll be the only time you’ll go.” Here’s the video below of Mayor Berry’s response to Muschamp’s comments:
I have to admit; it’s pretty clever and definitely gets the rivalry going, even in the dog days of July, when this video was released. As for her hoping to get as many Gator fans over to Kyle Field as possible, it’ll be interesting to see how many Gators make the trip over. According to Google Maps, Kyle Field 922 miles from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, and a 15 hour drive. One of Our Two Bits very own Scott Francis flew out to Texas for the game on Wednesday. He will tweet some stuff while he’s there, you follow him on Twitter here. As for the game itself, this one’s an important one for the Gators, and it should be a nail biter. Here’s a preview of what to expect from Texas A&M’s offense and defense, and what Florida must do to to get a win Saturday.
The Gator Defense will be key in this game, with the Aggies bringing in a new offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury who ran the explosive Houston spread offense of 2011. The Cougars’ 2011 quarterback, Case Keenum, was an essential key to the offense’s success, and Houston ranked number one in the nation in 2011 in touchdowns per game. Klingsbury says his Aggie team is “big on being a fast-paced team and a well-conditioned team”. The Aggies have two stars on their offensive line that could make it tough for the Gator front seven to break through. Left tackle Luke Joeckel is already projected to be a top NFL draft pick in 2013, standing 6-6 and weighing 310 pounds. Jake Matthews, NFL Hall of Famer’s Bruce Matthew’s son, is very solid at right tackle. The offensive line will have to do a good job protecting A&M’s starting redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel at quarterback, who to the surprise of many surpassed sophomore Jameill Showers for the starting job. Manziel has a tough task ahead of him facing the Florida Defense.
As I touched on in my 2012 Gator Football Preview Post, we have a defense that finished 8th nationally in 2011, and the expectations are even higher for the fast, physical, and menacing defensive unit facing SEC offenses. The Aggie receivers are not as fast and deep as what Klingsbury had at Houston, but there are a couple of intriguing receivers. Ryan Swope, the Aggie’s slot receiver, broke the school’s single-season records for reception yards and catches. He also has the highest career reception record. Swope combined with fellow receiver Uzoma Nwachukwu for 139 catches for 1,846 yards and 13 TDs in 2011. Note that this was all while now Miami Dolphin Ryan Tanehill was under center for A&M, so Johnny Manziel is a key factor in the effectiveness of the Aggie receiving corp. The run game for the Aggies is made up of Christine Michael who is a complete beast…when he is healthy. With Florida being the first game for the Aggies thanks to Hurricane Isaac, he is ready to go for Saturday. Michael averaged about 100 yards per game last year, and had a team-leading 899 rushing yards before tearing his ACL in November.
*Key Statistic: Third-Down Conversions were denied by the 2011 Florida Defense 72.7% of the time.
Gator Offense vs Aggie Defense:
The Gator offense, under new offensive coordinator Brent Pease from Boise State, will have to step up big against a hostile crowd at Kyle Field. Pressure will be on Mike Gillislee, who had a career-high 142 yards and two TDs last week, to have a big game against a tough A&M rush defense. Their rush defense impressively finished 12th nationally last season. Texas A&M had a very weak secondary who gave up 276.3 passing yards per game in 2011.
Starting quarterback Jeff Driskel must attack downfield and take advantage of this statistic. I expect Pease call plays using receiver Frankie Hammond and tight end Jordan Reed, who had solid games last Saturday. Both Pease and Muschamp said that they showed a limited sample of Pease’s offensive playbook against Bowling Green, so the passing game should open up a lot more on Saturday. Florida’s offensive line must protect the sophomore Driskel against an Aggie four-man defensive front that features defensive end Damontre Moore. Moore is a key playmaker for A&M, he led the team with 17.5 tackles for a loss and was second on the team with 8.5 sacks. The Aggie linebackers do not have much depth, but have strength in outside LB Sean Porter and middle LB Jonathon Stewart. Porter notched 9.5 sacks in 2011, which put A&M in place to lead the nation in sacks. Stewart led the team with 98 tackles.
*Key Statistic: Texas A&M’s Defense had 51 sacks in 2011, a figure that led the nation.
This is a huge game for both Florida and Texas A&M. If Florida wins, it could spark the start of a dark horse contention for the SEC East. If Texas A&M wins, it would get Kevin Sumlin’s Aggie career off to a great start, and could turn some heads while being welcomed into the SEC. Let’s hope Florida can get a win and some on the road confidence they will need against Tennessee in week 3.
Morgan Moriarty is a Sophomore Telecommunications Major at the University of Florida, and is currently interning for ESPN Radio: Gainesville/Ocala. She is also on the University of Florida Women’s Club Water Polo. Follow her on Twitter here @moriarty343