After Texas A&M won the coin toss and received the ball to begin the game, the Gators had an opportunity to score first in the second half and regain momentum. Instead, the UF offense went nowhere and the defense once again allowed the opposition to drive down and put six on the board in the 19-17 loss Saturday at Florida Field.
Any momentum the Gators had coming out of the break had evaporated with the one-score lead, bringing back memories of Florida’s 17-16 loss to LSU just the weekend prior, a loss that saw the Tigers push the lead to 14-3 after opening the second half with a well-designed drive that left Florida’s defense reeling.
Considering the Gators had made second-half urgency a point of emphasis throughout the week of practice, it was a frustrating sign of regression from a unit that had held the Aggies to just a field goal in the opening minutes. And as the Gators could only watch as the Aggies drove down the field and kicked a decisive field goal to pull off the second-half comeback, the Gators and coach Jim McElwain found themselves once again searching for answers after a second-half collapse.
“Unbelievable, we had a great plan. We missed two blocks, I know that for sure,” UF coach Jim McElwain said of conceding the early second-half touchdown. “And it wasn’t anything the other team did.”
It wasn’t the decisive moment in Florida’s loss – that would come on Feleipe Franks’ interception on the final drive – but the lack of a stand to begin the second half set the tone for the remainder of the contest. After holding Texas A&M freshman quarterback Kellen Mond to a lone rushing yard in the first half, the UF defense seemed to lose track of the dual-threat signal caller, who would continue to pick up critical first downs with his feet to finish with 52 rushing yards and a touchdown to go along with 180 passing yards on just eight completions.
After the game, UF’s defense seemed disappointed at the setback in a critical stretch, which helped seal UF’s worst start to a season in 14 years, but wasn’t ready to blame the loss on the second-half start.
“It’s not really that demoralizing because my coach in particular, he always preaches to us before the game that there’s a lot of good stuff that’s going to happen and there’s a lot of bad stuff that’s going to happen,” Gators defensive end CeCe Jefferson said. “You just have to keep your head up and continue to play, and bounce back from it. And I thought we did a pretty good job of (bouncing back), so it wasn’t that demoralizing.”
Asked to pinpoint the difference between the two offenses in the second half, McElwain once again cited Florida’s lack of explosive plays as a determining factor rather than the defense’s inability to get a stop in the opening minutes of the second half.
“There were a couple explosives in there that ultimately flipped the field on us,” McElwain said. “Give them credit, they took advantage of it. And their defense did a pretty darn good job in the red zone keeping us out of the end zone. They made the plays and we didn’t. Simple as that.”
For his part, Jefferson concurred that a defense that held the Aggies to just 83 rushing yards on the night did its part, but stopped short of putting blame on the offense.
“I feel like the defense always does enough,” Jefferson said. “I’m a defensive player, so that’s just how I feel.”