Florida had talked all week about the importance of shutting down talented Texas A&M junior Christian Kirk — both as a receiver and in the return game.
But an poorly placed punt in the fourth quarter directly to Kirk proved costly during UF’s gut-wrenching 19-17 loss to the Aggies at The Swamp.
Rather than angle a punt out of bounds, Florida senior punter Johnny Townsend lofted a 46-yard punt in the middle of the field directly to Kirk with 4:20 remaining. Kirk made the Gators pay, returning the punt 43 yards down to Florida’s 39-yard line.
“That was supposed to happen and it didn’t,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said. “And it came back to bite us.”
McElwain said the plan for the punt was to either pin Kirk on the boundary or kick it out of bounds.
“The plan didn’t work,” McElwain said. “We didn’t execute. We didn’t get the guy to the ground.”
The big-time return set up Texas A&M’s go-ahead field goal by Daniel LaCamera with 58 seconds left and was one of a handful of UF’s special team blunders in the game.
• Eddy Pineiro had a kickoff sail out of bounds at the 10-yard line after Florida scored a touchdown to go up 17-10 early in the fourth quarter. Texas A&M started the ensuing drive at its own 35-yard yard line, good enough field position to allow the Aggies to drive for a field goal and cut UF’s lead to 17-13. “Should have kept it in one time for sure,” McElwain said. “Eddy kicking it out of bounds, I don’t try to teach him to kick it out of bounds. He just mis-hit it.”
• Freshman Adarius Lemons, making his debut returning kicks, stumbling while returning a kickoff out of his own end zone and getting to just the 15-yard line with 7:33 left. With poor field position, Florida was only able to drive to the 36-yard line before Kirk returned Townsend’s ill-fated punt. McElwain said Lemons had practiced well during the week and deserved the opportunity to return kickoffs.
“Just some things we need to get cleaned up,” Florida junior defensive lineman Cece Jefferson. “We will work on them and try to get ready for the next game.”