October 12, 2017
The Opening Kickoff: Gators vs. Texas A&M
Florida hosts the Aggies for the first time in 55 years on Saturday night at The Swamp.
GAINESVILLE, Fla. – The Gators suffered a hard-to-swallow 17-16 loss to LSU a week ago on Homecoming. The Tigers were supposedly reeling, losing at home to Troy the previous week to turn up the heat on head coach Ed Orgeron.
Instead of folding, they came into Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and pulled out a win, one they desperately needed.
Fast forward a week and the Gators (3-2, 3-1) face a similar situation as they prepare to host Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1) on Saturday night, marking the Aggies’ first trip to Gainesville in 55 years.
Gator Nation has been testy the past several days. You’ve heard the complaints. The offense needs to produce more. What’s up with those alternate uniforms? Losing to a team that lost to Troy the previous week is unacceptable.
That’s life week-to-week in the Southeastern Conference and now the orange & blue faithful want to see what head coach Jim McElwain and his team have for an Aggies team that lost 27-19 to No. 1-ranked Alabama last weekend.
Texas A&M has its issues, too, but the offense is running well and the defense is improving. The Aggies are trending upward. The Gators are trending downward.
Florida suffered not only a loss to LSU, but in its wake several key players to injuries. A team already short-handed could be minus more players.
McElwain isn’t interested in hearing what the Gators don’t have.
“Everything is still out in front of us,” he said. “How we approach that and how our guys choose to attack that is really going to be interesting. Like I said, I don’t care who is missing, there isn’t any of that. It’s the guys that we have, go out and execute, play your tails off, and that’s what has to happen.”
This is the second meeting between the schools since Texas A&M joined the SEC in 2012. The Aggies hosted the Gators in their inaugural conference game and Florida rose to the occasion with a 20-17 victory, slowing down freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel before he became known as Johnny Football.
Let’s take a closer look at Saturday’s game with The Opening Kickoff:
— Gators Football (@GatorsFB) October 13, 2017
The Gators are at a crucial point in the schedule with Texas A&M at home on Saturday, then a bye week before playing Georgia in Jacksonville. Following the loss to LSU, an 0-3 October looms as a possibility unless the Gators can get healthy and turn up the offensive production.
Texas A&M has faded fast in the second half of recent seasons. However, the Aggies played respectable against No. 1-ranked Alabama and seem to have gained some newfound hope. The Gators could dash that with a win, or the Aggies could leave ‘The Swamp’ with some swagger. Regardless, this matchup is a tone-setter for both programs heading into the heart of the SEC schedule.
The most discussed storyline around the Gators this week is the alternate uniforms they will wear on Saturday night. There was no middle ground I this debate. Fans either loved or hated the Nike-designed swamp green uniform combination. The players sounded excited to play in them. The media mostly gave them two-thumbs down. If the Gators win, the uniforms will get a lot more popular with fans. If they lose, burn them.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk is an all-purpose threat and possibly the most dangerous player on the field Saturday night. Kirk has 316 yards receiving and five touchdown receptions and he is the active FBS career leader in punt return average (21.4 yards).
38 – Years since Gators have lost to a school from Texas (Houston, 14-10 in 1979). Gators have defeated West Texas State (1982), Houston (1995), Texas A&M (2012) and North Texas (2016) since.
3.83 – Sacks per game for Texas A&M’s defense, tops in the SEC and second nationally.
409 – Team-leading rushing yards for UF true freshman Malik Davis.
THE QUOTE FILE
“It’s a one-time deal. Nike did a good job telling the story, and like I said it was 18 months, I thought they’d kind of forgotten about it. It’s something that, obviously, people [are] talking about — that’s a good thing.” – McElwain on UF’s alternate uniforms for Texas A&M game
“Kellen’s legs can keep plays alive. He needs to learn when to use them and when to not. That’s what separates you as a veteran QB. He hasn’t always done everything right, but he’s given us a chance in all these games to be successful.” – Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin on quarterback Kellen Mond
OUT FOR SEASON: DB Marcell Harris (Achilles tendon); DB Garrett Stephens (knee). OUT: DB Nick Washington (shoulder), LB Nick Smith (knee), WR James Robinson (heart condition), QB Kyle Trask (foot surgery); DOUBTFUL: WR/QB Kadarius Toney (shoulder); QUESTIONABLE: WR Tyrie Cleveland (ankle), RB Mark Thompson (heel), DE Jabari Zuniga (ankle); PROBABLE: OL Brett Heggie (concussion protocol); DB Duke Dawson (illness); SUSPENDED: RB Jordan Scarlett, WR Rick Wells, WR Antonio Callaway, LB Ventrell Miller, OL Kadeem Telfort, DL Jordan Smith, DL Keivonnis Davis, LB James Houston IV, DT Richerd Desir-Jones.
CHARTING THE GATORS
The Gators are coming off a disappointing Homecoming loss to LSU that not only knocked Florida out of the national polls for the first time this season, but caused major unrest among the fan base.
UF has an opportunity to trend in a positive direction on Saturday night against the Aggies, who are coming off a loss at No. 1-ranked Alabama.
Last week’s defeat was Florida’s 10th in 32 games under third-year head coach Jim McElwain. The Gators are 6-3 under McElwain coming off a loss. A look at those games:
|@ LSU/2015||L 35-28||Georgia*||W 27-3|
|Florida State/2015||L 27-2||Alabama**||L 29-15|
|Alabama**/2015||L 29-15||Michigan***||L 41-7|
|Michigan***/2015||L 41-7||UMass (2016)||W 24-7|
|@ Tennessee/2016||L 38-28||@ Vanderbilt||W 13-6|
|@ Arkansas/2016||L 31-10||South Carolina||W 20-7|
|@ Florida State/2016||L 31-13||Alabama**||L 54-16|
|Alabama**/2016||L 54-16||Iowa^||W 30-3|
|Michigan^^/2017||L 33-17||@ Kentucky||W 28-27|
|LSU/2017||L 17-16||Texas A&M||???|
*@ Jacksonville; **SEC Championship Game; ***Buffalo Wild Wings Bowl; ^Outback Bowl; ^^Advocare Classic
10 QUICK HITTERS
The Gators have scored in 366 consecutive games, setting an NCAA record for most consecutive non-shutouts in last week’s loss to LSU.
The Gators have rushed for 165 or more yards in four consecutive games, their first such streak since 2012 against Tennessee, Kentucky, LSU and Vanderbilt. Florida is averaging 155.4 yards per game on the ground, ninth in the SEC.
This is Florida’s first night game at home against an SEC opponent since a 38-10 win over Ole Miss on Oct. 3, 2015.
Freshman quarterback Kellen Mond has accounted for more than 1,300 yards of total offense, 1,045 passing and 266 rushing. Mond is mobile and one of the top newcomers in the SEC. He will test a Gators defense ranked 55th nationally more than any quarterback they have faced this season.
The Aggies have scored at least 14 points in 20 consecutive games, the longest streak in the SEC. Texas A&M is averaging 34.3 points in 2017, fourth in the conference.
Expect to hear Aggies sophomore linebacker Tyrel Dodson’s name called a lot Saturday. Dodson had a career-high 16 tackles against Alabama.
Florida leads the all-time series against Texas A&M 2-1. Florida defeated the Aggies at home, 42-6, in 1962, lost 37-14 in the 1977 Sun Bowl, and defeated the Aggies, 20-17, in head coach Kevin Sumlin’s debut in 2012.
THE OTHER SIDE
The Aggies are featured in a show called “The Pulse” each week during football season.
It’s a high-end production that brings Aggies fans close to the program. Real close.
Here is this week’s show leading up to the Alabama game and then after Texas A&M’s 27-19 loss to the top-ranked Crimson Tide:
WHAT THEY’RE WRITING
I should be watching this one in my bed at home on Saturday night if Friday goes well. No, I don’t have a wild house party planned on Friday night. Instead, surgery for a recently discovered medical condition. The good news is doctors caught it early and the long-term prognosis is very optimistic. As for the Gators, their long-term prognosis will be more defined by what they do Saturday night against the Aggies. A win sets up a huge SEC East showdown against Georgia in two weeks. A loss and the Georgia game probably won’t matter nearly as much in the SEC East standings. I really thought the Gators would beat LSU and they lost. So, I think they will lose to Texas A&M, which surely means they’ll win.