SEC Saturday in College Station
Florida spoils Texas A&M's SEC debut with a distinctly SEC style
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- There were two distinctly SEC elements to Florida's 20-17 victory over Texas A&M on this historic Saturday deep in the heart of Texas.
The atmosphere, passion and pageantry were off-the-charts good. We're talking Baton Rouge, La., good; Tuscaloosa, Ala., good; and Athens, Ga., good.
The Aggies are going to fit right in.
Unfortunately for them, though, they also got a taste on the field of what lies at the core of SEC football, particularly in the second half.
"It's smash-mouth football, winning the line of scrimmage and getting it done in the fourth quarter," said Florida junior offensive guard Jon Halapio, reciting the second part of what made Saturday's game a vintage SEC affair.
It wasn't always pretty and teetered on being boring in spots, but was yet another reminder that grinding it out is a way of life in this league.
The Aggies will learn. They are well-coached and have the personnel to play with most of the teams in this league. In fact, they were clearly the better team in the first half Saturday and the team that dictated the tempo.
But the Gators were successful in turning it into more of a scrum in the second half, and they already had endured all the lessons they could stomach last season about being physical and playing for 60 minutes.
In eight SEC contests last season, the Gators were outscored 72-22 in the fourth quarter.
I told our guys that we're going to have to win some games like this. This is kind of who we are. I know nobody wants to hear that, but that's the facts of life. Sometimes you have to put your realistic glasses on and see who you are.
-- Florida coach Will Muschamp
"Last year, I don't know, man. I don't know if we win this ballgame," said Florida coach Will Muschamp, who won his first game as Gators coach in which his team trailed at the half.
"I told our guys that we're going to have to win some games like this. This is kind of who we are. I know nobody wants to hear that, but that's the facts of life. Sometimes you have to put your realistic glasses on and see who you are."
Muschamp knows very clearly what he wants the hallmark of Florida's program to be, and he doesn't mind saying that it might be a little different than what the Gator Nation has been used to in the past.
He wants a physical, blue-collar football team that's able to run the ball even when the opposing defense knows it's going to run the ball, and he wants a suffocating defense of his own that clamps down in the second half.
In other words, most of the things the Gators did Saturday in "welcoming" the Aggies to the SEC.
"With all of our hospitality in the SEC, we're trying to make everybody happy, and everybody wanted the glory story here with A&M and they didn't get it," Muschamp said. "I'm very proud of our team to come in here and play well and do what we had to do to win the game."
Texas A&M led 17-10 at the half after redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel punched holes in the Gators' defense. But in the second half, the Aggies were held scoreless and managed just 65 total yards. Florida forced Texas A&M into four three-and-outs and didn't allow a third-down conversion after the break.
And the best part of it for Muschamp was that his offense ended the game by playing keep-away from the Aggies and moving from its own 14 to the Texas A&M 27 -- all on the ground.
"We did a lot better job in the second half of controlling the line of scrimmage," Muschamp said. "That was the difference. There was no magic potion."
Texas A&M sacked Florida quarterback Jeff Driskel eight times, and several of those sacks were the result of Driskel holding on to the ball too long.
But Muschamp pointed out that Driskel also didn't turn the ball over in his first start.
"There are good sacks, too," Muschamp said. "There's nothing wrong with ending a series in a punt. I know that's not allowed to be said at Florida, but there's nothing wrong with it."
Where these two teams go from here remains to be seen.
We'll know a lot more about Florida after next Saturday's trip to Tennessee. The Eastern Division race is as wide open as it's ever been, and the winner next week in Knoxville will take a big step forward.
For Texas A&M, it might be more about survival, especially this first season in the league and drawing the assignment of playing in the Western Division.
The toughest part of Saturday's loss for the Aggies was feeling as if they let down their fans, who earned a solid A-plus in their SEC debut.
"Knowing how many people we let down, I think that's the biggest thing for me," Texas A&M senior receiver Ryan Swope said. "We let down this university. Not just that, but we let down each other. But the good thing is that we've got 11 football games left to play. We've just got to stay positive, and we're going to need those fans behind us the whole year."
Here's betting they'll be there.
Moreover, here's betting the Aggies will get there.
"It takes some time," Halapio said. "They've got a good team, a lot of good players. We're just glad to get a win here any way we could.
"You never get picky about winning in the SEC."
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