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Friday September 7, 2012Gators at Texas A&M: 10 Things to Watch

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER
GatorZone.com Senior Writer

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- Two young quarterbacks making their first career starts is enough to make Florida's trip to Texas A&M interesting.

But there's more. The game Saturday at Kyle Field is the SEC opener for both schools. Oh, did we mention it's also the Aggies' first SEC game ever.

Throw in the little tidbit that the game is also Texas A&M's season opener thanks to Hurricane Isaac, and that Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin is making his debut, too, and Florida's first trip to College Station takes on added significance.

Even without all the subplots, this game has potential to set the course for two teams looking for an identity early in the season.

To get you ready for kickoff, let's take a look at 10 things to watch on Saturday:

JEFF DRISKEL

A Gators quarterback making his first start is always news. Driskel learned Monday he would get the start after a tight battle with Jacoby Brissett all of spring practice and fall camp.

Driskel lined up at receiver to start the season opener against Bowling Green, but the sophomore from Oviedo played the rest of the first quarter and entire second half. The Gators didn't ask Driskel to do too much in the passing game, but he may have to against the Aggies for the Gators to come away with a win.

JOHNNY MANZIEL

Unless you live in Texas and followed Manziel's prolific prep career at Kerrville Tivy High, maybe the name doesn't ring a bell. It does for the Gators' defense.

A redshirt freshman, Manziel won his own quarterback battle in fall camp and is set to become the first freshman to start the season opener for the Aggies since 1944. The Gators would like nothing more than to spoil Manziel's debut.

AGGIES' PASS RUSH

Texas A&M led the nation a year ago with 51 sacks. Linebacker Sean Porter and defensive end Damontre Moore combined for 18 of those sacks, and both are back.

Florida's offensive line will be challenged to give Driskel time to throw and keep him protected as he takes center stage in the Gators' offense.

FLORIDA'S SECONDARY

If Sumlin unleashes the passing game with Manziel the way he did at Houston with Case Keenum at the controls, Florida's secondary will be tired by the end of the game.

Houston led the nation in scoring (49.3 points), total offense (599.1 yards) and passing offense (450.1 yards) last season. Gators coach Will Muschamp said to expect to see plenty of nickel and dime coverage from the Gators.

GATORS' GROUND GAME

Muschamp wanted to establish a power-run game in the opener against Bowling Green and the Gators did exactly that, totaling 220 yards rushing.

Senior Mike Gillislee shined as the showcase back, carrying 24 times for a career-high 148 yards. With Driskel learning on the job, the running game needs to carry some of the load.

PEASE'S PLAYBOOK

There was a lot of talk this week about how the Gators kept it close to the vest offensively in Week 1. Muschamp's insistence on developing a running game limited Pease's opportunities to dig deep into his playbook.

Both Muschamp and Pease said there will more variation from the Gators' offense, including more of the shifts and motions Pease incorporated at Boise State.

SUMLIN'S DEBUT

Sumlin had to wait 10 days longer than expected to make his debut as Texas A&M's coach due to Hurricane Isaac's romp through Louisiana last week.

Sumlin made a name for himself as an innovative offensive coach in his time at Houston, where the Cougars led the nation in total offense two of the past four seasons. Houston led the nation in the number of snaps a season ago, so expect the Aggies to work fast and furious in whatever they run.

PENALTY COUNT

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of Florida's season-opening win over Bowling Green was those 14 flags the Gators accumulated. Florida led the SEC in penalties a year ago and after Week 1, the Gators are on pace to repeat.

No one wants that honor and coaches spent much of the week harping on the undisciplined penalties the Gators committed in the opener.

FOCUS FACTOR

This is an important game for both programs. For the Gators it's a chance to show they are moving in the right direction and can win a big game on the road, something they failed to do in Muschamp's first season.

For Texas A&M it's an opportunity to show the country that it belongs in the SEC and that Sumlin's arrival means better days ahead. This could be a close game between evenly matched opponents, so the team that is most mentally focused on the challenge should prevail.

A FUN DAY

The game sold out as fast as any in Kyle Field history with Texas A&M making its SEC debut. The Gators have never played in College Station and the programs haven't met in 35 years, so the build-up to the game has been significant.

Texas A&M fits well into the SEC both as a university and football program, and with "GameDay" in town and the game an important gauge for both teams, Saturday has potential to be the kind of day that makes college football so popular.

 

GATORS GAMEBOX

No. 23/24 Florida at Texas A&M

Kickoff: Saturday, 3:30 p.m. (Kyle Field)

Records: Florida 1-0, 0-0 SEC; Texas A&M 0-0, 0-0

TV: ESPN -- Brent Musburger (play-by-play), Kirk Herbstreit (analyst), Heather Cox (sideline)

Radio: Gator IMG Sports Network (click here for affiliates); GatorVision audioXM 199Sirius 94

Game notes: FloridaTexas A&M

Bottom line: This is an important game for both programs. If the Gators can come away with a win and Driskel plays well in his first start, it will provide a much-needed boost of confidence for the program and serve as a big statement that the Gators are getting closer to where they want to be.

 

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