Aggies at Gators: Tonight’s storylines

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Florida's Omarius Hines pulls in the ball during the second half against Texas A & M at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas, in the Sept. 8, 2012. [File]

By staff writer Robbie Andreu and correspondent Graham Hall

Who: Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1 SEC) vs. Florida (3-2, 3-1)

When: 7 p.m.

Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium

TV: ESPN2

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850

Line: UF is favored by 3

Swamp Green Saturday

When the Gators take the field tonight, they’ll actually look the part, at least from an attire standpoint. Florida will stray from the traditional orange and blue for the first time in program history by wearing “Swamp green” alternate uniforms that resemble the skin of an alligator. Looking to celebrate the 25th anniversary of Steve Spurrier nicknaming Ben Hill Griffin Stadium “The Swamp”, Nike and UF collaborated on the uniforms, which will be worn just once, over the past 18 months. Although initial reviews from fans was mixed, coach Jim McElwain feels the uniforms appeal to the future of the program. “The response in recruiting, ultimately the demographic we’re looking at, man, the excitement has been unbelievable,” McElwain said.

Gators must find playmakers

There’s no other way to say it: Florida lacks proven playmakers entering tonight’s matchup with Texas A&M. In addition to the absence of both Antonio Callaway and Jordan Scarlett, who remain suspended for their role in the credit card fraud scandal that rocked the program, the Gators will likely be without wide receivers Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney. Without Toney, the Gators will look primarily at Dre Massey to run the Wildcat formation and more touches for tailback Malik Davis (pictured above). And without the team’s primary deep threat in Cleveland, the Gators will need another pass catcher to step up and help quarterback Feleipe Franks stretch the field against a Aggies pass defense that has allowed 263.5 passing yards per game this season.

Tempo could help Franks

The plot unfolded like it usually did: Florida’s defense appeared stuck on the field for long stretches in last Saturday’s 17-16 loss to LSU and the offense couldn’t sustain drives. The Gators managed just 54 offensive plays against the Tigers, and Feleipe Franks and Co. converted just two of their nine third-down conversion attempts. That said, McElwain believes the key to elevating Franks’ play in clutch situations is to increase the tempo, which was a point of emphasis throughout practice this week. “I think some of the tempo pieces we worked this week are going to hopefully help him. Kind of with the comfort of getting things in and out,” McElwain said of Franks. “He’s been good. Like I said, he’s a confident guy. And doesn’t waver.”

UF in search of turnovers

After CJ Henderson announced his presence with pick-sixes in consecutive games, it seemed a foregone conclusion the Gators would rely on turnovers to fuel the offense. But since the 26-20 victory over Tennessee, Florida has yet to record a turnover in the three ensuing contests. Florida is 10-1 under McElwain when the Gators win the turnover battle, but forcing said turnovers appears to be the hardest part for a UF unit that ranks No. 1 in the SEC in red-zone defense. Sophomore defensive back Chauncey Gardner Jr., a focal point of UF’s young secondary, believes it comes down to skill rather than simply being in the right place at the right time. “It ain’t no luck,” Gardner said. “You have to have ball skills.”

No Tide hangover for A&M

Under normal circumstances, the Aggies would be limping into The Swamp tonight with their heads bowed and their confidence shaken. Because that’s what usually happens to teams that play Alabama the Saturday before. They enter the next game beaten and broken. But that’s not the case with A&M, which played the Tide last Saturday night in College Station. The Aggies didn’t get beat up, they punched back — and landed quite a flew blows to Nick Saban’s mighty squad. A&M competed equally with Alabama for long stretches of the game before falling 27-19. Not bad for a team that was a four-touchdown underdog. A&M held Alabama to just 335 yards of total offense, its lowest total of the season. So, the Aggies aren’t limping into The Swamp. They’re striding in with renewed confidence.

Freshman QB can produce

While the Gators continue to struggle with a redshirt freshman starting at quarterback, the Aggies are starting to roll with their true freshman quarterback, Kellen Mond, who played at the IMG Academy in Bradenton last fall. Tentative and unproductive in A&M’s first couple of games, Mond has since settled down and started to perform at a much higher level. A calm and confident player, especially for a true freshman, he is a true dual-threat quarterback who is capable of taking it the distance if he gets outside the pocket. UF’s No. 1 defensive goal will be to keep Mond in the pocket, but as we saw last week in the loss to LSU, the Gators have a tendency to give up the edge, sometimes quite easily. By the way, Mond’s passing has dramatically improved since the start of the season.

Zaire not going away

After going on Twitter last Saturday night and expressing his apparent displeasure about not getting a chance to play in the LSU game, quarterback Malik Zaire, the Notre Dame graduate transfer, has not started to fade away behind redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks. No, he’s remained engaged and has been competing harder than ever in practice, according to some of the players and UF coach Jim McElwain, who said earlier in the week that the coaches have to show patience with Franks as he develops. But if the offense staggers again early in the game tonight — which very well could happen against a playmaking and improving A&M defense — don’t be surprised if Mac decides to shake things up by giving Zaire another chance. He remains a viable option.

Today’s game questions

  • The Gators put an emphasis on starting fast throughout the week in practice. Will they get off to one tonight or not?
  • UF is also planning to go with a quicker tempo on offense tonight. How does that work out?
  • Will the Florida defense go a fourth straight game without coming up with a turnover?
  • Will the Gators produce any explosive plays in the passing game?
  • Can the Florida defense contain dual-threat quarterback Kellen Mond?

See Sunday’s sports section for Andreu’s answers or click back later tonight.

Andreu’s pick

Texas A&M 28, Florida 6

(Season: 4-1)

KEY MATCHUP

Florida pass defense/special teams vs. Texas A&M receiver/returner Christian Kirk:

Kirk will be the best player on the field tonight, and it won’t even be close. He can break open a game catching the football, running it and returning it, so the Gators are going to have their hands full on several fronts when it comes to slowing down No. 3. Kirk will be a huge test for the defense. He’s A&M’s leading receiver and he’s also a major threat on jet sweeps, which should send chills down the back of anyone who saw last week’s game against LSU. Here’s the really scary thing about Kirk coming into tonight’s game: he’s only returned one punt for minus-1 yard this season, which means teams are afraid to even kick to him. UF punter Johnny Townsend won’t be. If Townsend, the Gators’ best offensive weapon with his ability to flip field position, out-kicks his coverage like he’s done several times this season, boom, Kirk is going to have a chance to take it to the house. Just saying.

 

5 COMMENTS

  1. ”…they’re probably going to have 900 yards of offense.” -Coach Mac.
    ”Florida’s defense appeared stuck on the field for long stretches in last Saturday’s 17-16 loss…” -Gatorsports.com
    And considering Texas A&M is averaging around 72 plays per game, while Floirda’s offense is only averaging around 50+ plays per game, well, something’s gotta’ give. I’m hearing Han Solo’s famous line in the movie, Star Wars. ”Never tell me the odds!” Because the odds are totally against this depleted Gator team.
    So, ”Come on, Gators, get up and go!”

  2. Robbie is such a negative whiner. Kirk will be the best player and it won’t even be close? really, so basically, all of the UF players are terrible and they have zero talent, right? Look, I hate the way the team is playing too, I really do. They are lame on offense, the defense is not great, and their special teams are no where near special.

    But to say that there is not a single player on our team that is anywhere near close in talent level is ridiculous and untrue. Malik Davis has shown us that he can really crank it and has the talent that we need. Don’t lie just to sell a story please; fake news.

  3. All Gator fans just need to relax and go for the ride. Unless you have a ton of money and are a bull gator, you have no say in the direction of this program. If Mac continues the AVERAGE recruiting and continues with Nussmeir and the PREDICTABLE offense, then UF will CONTINUE to lose and a CHANGE will be made. I told my wife on the day of his hire that Mac was Muschamp 2.0 and predicted he would last 5yrs (as God as my witness). In years 1-2 most new coaches get a pass and Mac earned goodwill off a garbage SEC East. Year 3, boosters again will give him another pass on excuses( red shirt QB, suspended players, injuries). In year 4, I thinks excuses will be very very thin. And in year 5, there will be no tolerance of excuses and eventual firing will happen. Again, this is assuming, Mac digs his heels in ala Muschamp and makes no changes.

  4. Just remember, nothing is the coaches fault, it is always the players. Nuss is a demi-god and if all the recruited QB’s (not a single one on the roster wasn’t brought in by Mac and/or Nuss) weere just good, we would have a top-100 offense. Nevermind how bad Michigan was when Nuss was there, nevermind they shot up over 50 spots the next year after Nuss was gone, and nevermind the growing number of ex-players who have spoken out such as Brindise (SECCountry podcast after Michigan), Treon (his QBR went WAY down under Nuss, not that he’s that great), and of course Cox Jr. BUT, you have to blame the players, not the coaches making hundreds of thousands of dollars.