FOOTBALL

Florida Gators able to get back on winning track with 41-24 win over Texas A&M. Here's our takeaways.

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Florida football snapped a two-game losing streak with a 41-24 win over Texas A&M before an announced 97,797 at Kyle Field.

The Gators (5-4, 2-4 SEC) moved a win closer to bowl eligibility by picking up their first win since beating Missouri 24-17 on Oct. 8.

Florida rolled up 493 yards of offense, with 292 yards and three TDs coming on the ground. Starting Florida running back Montrell Johnson Jr. had 22 carries for 100 yards and one TD.

Florida picked up its first SEC road win in close to two years, with its last road win in the conference coming on Dec. 5, 2020, at Tennessee. 

Florida Gators running back Montrell Johnson Jr. (2) runs the ball in the first half Saturday against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas.

Florida began the week by dismissing one of its top defensive players, Brenton Cox Jr., for a series of off-field issues. Another Florida player on defense, safety Kamar Wilcoxson, left the team as well, but the Gators still put forth a solid effort in their longest road trip of the season.

"There’s a human element to this game, and that’s a battle that we’ve been living with this group of players," Florida coach Billy Napier said. "I really can’t compliment the leadership on our staff and the leadership amongst our players enough relative to, the character right, the accountability, the brotherhood, playing the game with a special team dynamic, a certain morale, just out of respect for the game and the way it should be played, and I think we saw some of that today.

A flu outbreak affected Texas A&M's roster as the Aggies were down two starters and a handful of reserves. Projected Texas A&M quarterback Conner Weigman sat out the game with the flu. The Aggies (3-6, 1-5 SEC) turned to Haynes King at quarterback, who passed for 279 yards and one TD.

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Here are five takeaways from the game:

QB Anthony Richardson impacts game as a dual threat 

Richardson scored two rushing TDs for the Gators in the first half — on an 11-yard TD run and a 60-yard TD run that had the entire Texas A&M defense fooled. Richardson also made a crafty move on a fourth-and-6 play, a shovel pass to Johnson for an 18-yard gain.

Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) throws a pass in the first half Saturday against the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field.

Richardson then threw a pair of touchdown passes in the second half. Richardson finished the game with 201 yards passing and 78 yards rushing.

"Anthony’s going to play this game for a long time and I think he’ll look back and I think this will be one of those days where he’ll say, this was a pivotal day — playing with confidence," Napier said. "Thought he started fast, really thorough in his prep during the week. He’s a 20-year-old first-year starter in a new system. Again, I think Anthony’s problems aren’t physical. I think it’s about development, it’s about getting comfortable with a role, being a leader, being vocal, improving as a communicator, playing as a competitor and playing for your teammates."

Young receivers step up in Justin Shorter's absence

With starting receiver Justin Shorter out with a hamstring, sophomore receiver Ja'Quavion Fraziars and freshman receiver Caleb Douglas stepped up. Fraziars made four catches for 50 yards, including a 19-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter that put Florida ahead 27-24.

"He’s got energy about him," Napier said of Fraziars, "He’s a great teammate. Everybody in academics, nutrition, strength/conditioning, you can’t find a person that wouldn’t say, ‘Hey, that guy’s a great human being.’ He works. He does it the right way. He was ready, and when the opportunity presented itself, he stepped up today.”

Douglas made an acrobatic 12-yard TD catch on a third down play, giving the Gators a 34-24 lead. It was a homecoming game of sorts for Douglas, who is from Missouri City, Texas, a suburb of Houston.

"You could see Caleb just this week, he knew he was coming back to the home state this week," Napier said. "He had a good week of practice. Certainly, Shorter gets injured in the game, he sees that coming. Don’t get me wrong: He didn’t play perfect today. But made some critical plays in critical times. He’s a good young player, has a bright future in front of him.”

Florida unable to contain DeAchane early 

Speedy Texas A&M running back Devon Achane got going on Texas A&M's first offensive play, reversing his field for a 65-yard run. Achane scored all three touchdowns for the Aggies in the first half, with two coming on runs and one on a 5-yard catch. Achane wound up with 122 yards rushing.

Pre-snap penalties hurt Gators in first half

Florida was flagged for eight penalties for 34 yards in the first half, five of which came on either illegal procedures or delay of game calls.

Two false starts by right tackle Austin Barber resulted in a stalled Florida drive in the red zone late in the first half, in which the Gators were forced to settle for a 24-yard field goal by Adam Mihalek.

Overall, Barber was whistled for three false starts in the first half. 

Napier said Texas A&M's crowd impacted some of the pre-snap issues.

"Early in the game we tried to go with a silent count and we just had a little rhythm issue," Napier said. "You know, there were some things there. And then ultimately, when we weren't on that end of the field, we felt like we could play with our normal cadence. You know, you get down there towards the band, student section, in the red area it caused some problems. But, yeah, I mean those are things that we can address and we can do better for sure."

Defense flips switch in the second half

After surrendering 307 yards and 24 points in the first half, Florida's much-maligned defense came out with a different edge in the second half.

The Gators forced three-and-outs on their first two defensive possessions in the second half and recorded seven straight stops.

Princely Umanmielen, from Manor City, Texas, came up with a big strip sack early in the fourth quarter recovered by Lloyd Summerall III.

Then, later in the fourth quarter, Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr. pressured King into a fumble recovered by UF linebacker Amari Burney.

Florida linebacker Ventrell Miller said a halftime speech in the locker room pumped up the Gators defense.

"We know we started off flat-footed," Miller said. "Just taking ownership of that, and like I said, we just got the boys motivated second half and everybody came out and did their job, and we showed them how the Florida Gators defense can play.”