Florida – September 8
Will Muschamp is a familiar foe for Aggie fans, having previously served as the DC at Texas.
A Year Ago
2011 was Will Muschamp’s first season as a head coach, having served as defensive coordinator in his three previous coaching stops (Texas, Auburn and LSU,) and the Gators saw mixed his results in the first season.
The Gators got out to a 4-0 start, including victors over SEC opponents Tennessee and Kentucky, but then quarterback John Brantley went down in the fifth game of the season against Alabama. The Crimson Tide would go on to crush the Gators 38-10 in the Swamp that day, and neither Brantley or his team would ever fully recover.
From there, Florida went just 2-5 the rest of the regular season. Florida’s offense was terrible at the end of the season, and even Brantley’s return didn’t seem to get things energized. Though the defense played well all season, the offense was just not good enough for the Gators to win games, and they ended up 3-5 in the SEC, their first losing record in the conference since 1986. The season ended on a high note however, as Florida was able to defeat Ohio State in the Gator Bowl.
Name to Know
Mike Gillislee – RB
With Chris Rainey and Jeff Demps gone, the pressure of the Florida run game falls on Gillislee. Florida fans are hopeful that this allows Gillislee to finally be the more traditional back that they’ve been looking for. He averaged 6.3 yards per carry a season ago, but has always struggled in pass protection. However, he had a strong spring practice under new Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease and many think he’s ready for a big season.
Whoever plays quarterback
Can Gillislee have a breakout season as the feature back?
Similar to A&M, the Gators are going to have a new offensive system coming in this season, and they aren’t sure if their current quarterbacks are suited to handle it. Whether it’s Jeff Driskel or Jacoby Brissett, both have their own shortcomings and neither performed very well a season ago. Both threw for under 50% and both averaged less than 5.5 yards per pass attempt. As Florida enters fall practice, all eyes will be on the dueling sophomores.
Andre Debose – WR
If, and this is a big if, the Gators can get something going on the ground and the quarterbacks can prove they can make accurate throws (last season Florida threw below 50% on passes shorter than ten yards according to GatorBait.net’s Thomas Goldkamp) then Debose has the potential to be a big time playmaker on the outside. He had just 430 yards receiving a season ago, but averaged 27 yards per reception. Pease and company are going to have to find a way to get him the ball.
Dominique Easley – DT
With the pass rushing abilities of defensive end Ronald Powell sidelined after his torn ACT this spring, Easley is going to be an important factor for Muschamp’s defense. Easley, at 6-2 and 286 is a bit undersized by typical SEC defensive lineman standards, but is a big time threat in the pass rush.
Jon Bostic – LB
Bostic is the leading returning tackler for the Gators with 94 tackles a season ago, and is the leader of the Gator defense. He’s exactly what you’re looking for in a middle linebacker. He’s 6-1, 243, he can hit runners in the gap and drop them and he can move well in space in the passing game. Simply put, he’s one of the best linebackers in the country.
Jelani Jenkins – LB
Jelani Jenkins has been working hard this offseason at taking advantage of balls thrown his way.
If Jenkins learns how to catch the ball, the whole world might be in trouble. He dropped six would-be interceptions a season ago, and had his hands on a few more. The junior is 6-0, 233 and reportedly has been the biggest beneficiary of the new strength and conditioning program at Florida. If he puts it all together, he’ll be a big time playmaker this season.
Why Florida could win this game
September 8th might be the most anticipated matchup of 7-6 teams of all time. For Florida, the game could be a start at proving that their offense can bounce back from a terrible season last year under their new coordinator. If it can, then the Gators have the talent on defense to compete for the SEC East.
However, winning at Kyle Field, especially if this game is at night, is going to be easier said than done for the young Gator quarterbacks. In College Station, this game couldn’t be any bigger. It’s not only the SEC opener for the Aggies, but it’s the home opener for Kevin Sumlin’s team. Everybody from the A&M players to the tailgaters in the parking lot want to prove A&M belongs in the SEC, and they’re going to do everything they can to make it happen.
That’s why it’s impossible to look at this game simply on paper, because for A&M, this game means a lot more than stats and numbers. The question is though, can A&M win?
The answer here is yes, they can. Powell led the Gators in sacks a season ago and he’s likely out for the entire season, without him the Gators will probably struggle to put pressure on the quarterback all season. Add to that the fact that A&M’s offensive line is among the nation’s best, and you’ve got a clear cut advantage for the Aggies in that aspect of the game.
The key though, as it always is, will be for A&M not to turn it over. There’s every reason to expect Florida’s offense to struggle in this game, but the Aggies can’t afford to let them have extra possessions.
But that’s exactly why Florida can win this game. A&M has young quarterback issues of its own, and this will be far and away the fastest defense they’ve ever seen. To simulate Florida’s pass defense, the Aggies would probably have to use 13 players in practice.
Who wins this game is going to come down to which team can use its offense to take pressure off the quarterback, and which quarterback(s?) make the fewest mistakes. Make no mistake about it though, as important as this game may be for Florida, for A&M, it’s everything.