No. 24 Florida first SEC test for Aggies
COLLEGE STATION (AP) — No easy opener. No chance to work out the kinks against some lower-division team.
Thanks to Hurricane Isaac, Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech postponed last week’s game in Shreveport until Oct. 13. That means Texas A&M will open its season — and life in the Southeastern Conference — against No. 24 Florida on Saturday.
Whether it will be an advantage to the Gators or the Aggies, no one’s really sure.
“This is our first game,” new Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. “You can’t worry about that. We can’t change what happened last week. It’s how you approach it. There are positives and negatives to both. I think any coach would tell you that.”
Sure, Florida had a chance to figure out its quarterback situation and work out some kinks. But last week’s 27-14 win over Bowling Green also gave the Aggies some tape to look at, something the Gators didn’t have this week. Last year’s tape isn’t much help since Sumlin is in his first year at Texas A&M after being hired from Houston in December.
“We are in a little bit of a guessing game from the standpoint of them not playing, but that’s always with the first game,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “You go through that as a coach. You kind of go through it when you go into a bowl game and you have that much time off with some different wrinkles that they may give you. We just need to adjust to what we’re doing.”
Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins said the Gators have been watching tape from Sumlin’s high-flying offenses at Houston to prepare.
“They have a quick tempo,” Watkins said. “They try to get you out of rhythm when you’re looking back. Sometimes they look back and they hike the ball when you’re trying to get your call from your coaches. They try to catch you off balance when you’re not paying attention.”
These teams are similar in that they both have quarterbacks who are in their first season as starters. Muschamp named Jeff Driskel his starter Monday after alternating between he and Jacoby Brissett against Bowling Green.
“He just wants me to go out there and play and not worry about looking over my shoulder,” Driskel said of Muschamp. “He wants me to play loose and calm and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Driskel will be helped by having running back Mike Gillislee in the backfield with him. Gillislee got off to a great start last week, running 24 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns.
Sumlin decided redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel would take over the job left vacant by current Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill a couple of weeks into camp.
“He’s an inexperienced player and because of that, our surrounding cast of our offensive line or our running backs or our skill people on the perimeter who have experience, have to play well and create a quarterback-friendly atmosphere for him,” Sumlin said. “Fortunately we’ve got experienced players in those positions.”
Indeed. Texas A&M’s biggest strength going into the season is a veteran offensive line led by the two tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. The Aggies also hope to get a boost by the return of running back Christine Michael, a senior who has seen his last two seasons end prematurely after breaking his leg in 2010 and tearing an anterior cruciate ligament last season. He ran for 899 yards and eight touchdowns last season before the injury.
The Gators know they’ll be facing a rowdy crowd on Saturday after the Aggies have been waiting months to officially begin the SEC era in College Station. First-year Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease, a former assistant at Baylor, has tried to convey just how crazy it can get to his players, Swamp experience or not.
“The thing I do remember is in the third quarter and you look up there and they’re all swaying, you can’t look or you’re going to get like vertigo. Those stands start moving,” Pease said. “It can get loud. They’re into it and they get their little yell people going and … it’s a great atmosphere to play in. That’s something you can’t get caught up in. It’s a distraction you’ve really got to block out as a player and a coach.”
For Sumlin, he can’t wait to finally take the field with his team for the first time after all the months of planning and preparation.
“One of the reasons why I think our practices have been so good recently is because we’re just so excited to get on the field and play,” Sumlin said. “There have been a lot of great players here and a lot of them would love running out on Kyle Field on Saturday with all of the history-making things that are going on.”