Florida grinds out physical win against Texas A&M

By Greg Luca

Florida grinds out physical win against Texas A&M

Photo by Brett Le Blanc / Alligator Staff  Senior linebacker Jon Bostic attempts to tackle Texas A&M running back Christine Michael at Kyle Field Saturday. Bostic recorded five stops including a team leading two tackles for a loss.

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — In Texas A&M’s first game in a new league, the Gators showed the Aggies what Southeastern Conference football — specifically Florida’s brand of football — is all about.

No. 24 Florida’s 20-17 win against Texas A&M on Saturday in College Station was the type of physical, grind-it-out affair coach Will Muschamp craves. The resilient rushing attack and second-half defense the Gators rode to victory are the tenets Muschamp hopes will become emblematic of his program.

The product wasn’t always pretty, but that’s the identity Muschamp is looking to establish.

“We’re going to win a lot of games like this,” Muschamp said. “That’s just who we are. We’re going to grind it out. We’re going to win.”

After Texas A&M moved the ball at will to take a 17-10 lead into halftime, Florida took control of the line of scrimmage. The Aggies gained 269 yards in the first half and only 65 in the second.

The Gators also established themselves physically on the offensive side, grinding out 126 yards on the ground in the second half after only 16 in the first.

“In the second half, we really dominated the line of scrimmage,” Muschamp said.

That dominance showed down the stretch. Mike Gillislee’s 12-yard touchdown run with 13:05 left in the fourth gave UF a 20-17 lead, and Florida drained the final 3:13 of regulation with eight consecutive rushing plays. Muschamp called the sequence “the happiest moment in Florida history,” as the Gators started the postgame celebration on their own terms.

“Last year, I don’t know, man,” Muschamp said. “I don’t know if we would’ve won this ballgame.”

Guard Jon Halapio said Florida’s confidence and willingness to battle from behind were vastly improved compared to last season, showing signs of Muschamp making his mark on the program.

Muschamp acknowledged the beating he took from the media after a lackluster Week 1 win against Bowling Green but said he saw the dividends from that stubborn, run-based grinding on Saturday. When it came time for the Gators to play hard-nosed football, they were ready. And if they want to be a winning team in the SEC, they’ll need to be.

“This is kind of who we are,” Muschamp said. “I know nobody wants to hear that, but that’s the facts of life. Sometimes you’ve got to put your realistic glasses on and see who you are.”

Who the Gators were last year was a soft, weak bunch unable to handle the grind of a full season.

Muschamp hopes this year’s group is entirely different, and Saturday’s come-from-behind effort is a step toward that goal.

“I don’t even remember the last game we won from behind, actually, in my six years,” guard James Wilson said. “Usually we don’t win when we’re down.”

Texas A&M took a 10-point lead with 7:01 remaining in the second quarter on Christine Michael’s 1-yard touchdown run.

The Aggies’ offense dominated the first 30 minutes behind freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel. At halftime, Manziel was 16-of-20 for 141 yards, plus nine carries for 41 yards and a score. Texas A&M’s offense ran 46 first-half plays, amassing 17 points and 269 yards without having to punt.

Facing a quarterback and offense no one had ever seen before at the college level, Florida’s defensive linemen were trying to make plays in the backfield, which opened up running lanes for Manziel.

“There was no magic potion,” Muschamp said. “It was crystal clear. At halftime, I told them, ‘I’m firing you if you run up the field again. Sit on the line of scrimmage, squeeze blocks inside of you and quit running up the field.’”

The Gators took that message to heart, forcing three-and-outs on four of the Aggies first five second-half possessions.

Texas A&M averaged 5.8 yards per play in the first half and only 2.8 yards per play in the second.

Jeff Driskel was sacked eight times but completed 13 of 16 passes for 162 yards, while Mike Gillislee ran 14 times for 83 yards and both Gators touchdowns.

“It was just winning the line of scrimmage,” linebacker Jon Bostic said. “We weren’t playing like we wanted to in the first half. Once we made those adjustments, we were back to playing Florida football.”

Back to grinding it out, back to controlling the line of scrimmage, and back to winning.

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