It was a tale of two halves, but it added up to the University of Florida taking its SEC opener at Texas A&M, 20-17, in front of a boisterous crowd at Kyle Field in College Station.
For the second straight week, Florida(2-0, 1-0 SEC) scored the game’s final 13 points, this time erasing a 17-7 second quarter deficit in the process.
Mike Gillislee has a pair of touchdown runs, including a 12-yarder early in the fourth quarter to give the Gators the lead for good, while Caleb Sturgis has helped Florida erase a 10-point deficit with a pair of field goals. Johnny Manziel and Christine Michael helped Texas A&M (0-1, 0-1 SEC) out to an early lead.
The Aggies, in their first game as an SEC program, took the opening kick and marched 65 yards in 15 plays to grab the lead. The Gators appeared to get an early stop on the third play of the game, getting a stop on 3rd-and-long, however a personal foul extended the drive and the Aggies made UF pay. Taylor Bertolet knocked home a 27-yard field goal to give Texas A&M the early lead. Manziel, the first freshman to start the season opener at A&M since 1944, completed 6-of-8 passes for 33 yards and ran twice for 19 yards on the opening drive.
The Gators turned to sophomore signal-caller Jeff Driskel, making his first complete start under center. Driskel and the Gators came up with a strong response, marching 75 yards in 13 plays to take the lead. Facing a 3rd-and-11, Driskel hit Frankie Hammond for a 17-yard gain to the Texas A&M 46 that helped propel the drive.
Facing a 4th-and-1 at the Aggies’ 16-yard line, the Gators lined up for a field goal but faked it and Trey Burton got the first down and additional yardage was tacked on for a face mask. Two plays later Gillislee gave the Gators a 7-3 lead with 3:51 remaining in the opening quarter. Driskel looked very comfortable on the opening drive, hitting 3-of-3 passes for 37 yards. Gillislee rushed six times for 26 yards on the drive picking up where he left off last week when he rushed for a career-high 148 yards on 24 carries.
The Aggies came right back, however, as Manziel marched A&M 81 yards in 13 plays to grab a 10-7 lead early in the second quarter. Manziel raced in from 11 yards outs out to cap the drive as the Aggies regained the lead with 13:39 left in the first half.
After forcing the first punt of the game by the Gators, the Aggies got the ball back and again kept the Gators off balance. Manziel used play-action to hit Mike Evans for a 27-yard gain down the right sideline to put the Aggies at the UF 13-yard line. Moments later Michael scored from 1-yard out to give the Aggies a 17-7 lead with 7:01 left in the half. Manziel was near-flawless in the first half finishing 16-of-20 passing for 141 yards and rushing nine times for 41 yards.
Needing a big response, the Gators got some momentum back with a nine-play, 37-yard drive that ended with a 51-yard field goal from Caleb Sturgis, the seventh career field goal of 50+ yards for the senior, extending his school record. The field goal was set u p by a 30-yard pass play from Driskel to Jordan Reed.
Florida received the kick off in the second half and marched 67 yards on 10 plays all the way down to the Aggies’ 8-yard line where Sturgis booted his second field goal of the game, a 25-yarder, to cut the lead to 17-13 early in the third quarter.
After offense dominated the first half, the game settled down and UF held the Aggies to just 29 yards of offense in the third quarter.
Early the in fourth quarter Driskel hit Omarius Hines for a 39-yard pass down the right sideline setting up the Gators at the A&M 18-yard line. Gillislee scored his second touchdown of the game moments later, dancing along the sideline and in from 12 yards out to make it 20-17 with 13:01 remaining.
Driskel was efficient in his first full start, completing 13-of-16 passes for 162 yards. Gillislee finished with 14 carries for 83 yards in another solid outing. Florida finished with 306 yards of offense, 165 in the air, 141 on the ground.
After piling up 269 yards of offense in the first half, A&M managed just 65 the remainder of the game. Manziel finished 23-of-30 for 173 yards through the air.
The road ahead gets no easier for the Gators, as next up a trip to upstart Tennessee next Saturday evening at 6 p.m. on ESPN.