GatorZone.com Senior Writer
COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- After watching the Texas A&M offense and their redshirt freshman quarterback run through and around his Florida defense, Gators coach Will Muschamp laid it out for his front seven in the locker room at intermission.
"I'm going to fire every one of you if you keep running up the field," he vowed.
Because that's exactly what the Aggies wanted the Gators to do and it was their willingness to oblige that A&M plan that had the visitors down double-digits before fighting back for a 20-17 win.
For 30 minutes, the UF defense had played right into A&M's hands by turning up the aggression with its pass rush at the expense of disciplined, assignment football. Swift-footed Johnny Manziel, a hot-shot running quarterback prospect two years ago, was making the Gators pay with chunks of yards on dashes up the middle, plus some wiggles here and there.
UF came into the game with a plan. It just wasn't being executed.
"Don't make stuff up," Florida defensive coordinator Dan Quinn said. "Do your job."
At times, that meant being patient, engaging an offensive lineman directly in front and waiting for Manziel to commit.
"Sit on the line, squeeze blocks inside and quit running up the field," Muschamp said. "Get your hands on people and play thick on people. Do that and they won't have lanes anymore."
So back onto Kyle Field the Gators went. And even with a handful of key defensive players getting banged up or cramping up, guess what happened?
• The Aggies racked up 269 yards of offense and 17 first downs on 46 first-half plays and never punted.
• In the second half, A&M gained just 69 yards and four first downs, punted six times, including four after three-and-outs.
The bigger picture, of course, was the fact 24th-ranked Florida came from 10 points down in the maroon melee at one of the nation's rowdiest venues and came away with a gratifying victory amid the history-making euphoria of Texas A&M's first game as a member of the Southeastern Conference.
Perhaps just as big was the lesson the Gators may have learned in gutting this one out when next to nothing seemed to be going their way, especially on defense.
"We've talked so much about starting fast," junior defensive tackle Sharrif Floyd said. "Now we understand that means starting faster mentally, too. And that means believing that the guy next to you is going to do what he needs to do."
Like cornerback Marcus Roberson staying home on the edge and forcing the scrambling Manziel out of bounds. Or linebacker Mike Taylor stringing out a play that Manziel wanted to improvise, with UF teammates swarming to the ball clean up. Or nose tackle Omar Hunter locked down on his area inside and staying there as a human deterrent from Manziel shooting an inside gap like he did in the first half.
"It was pretty basic," senior middle linebacker Jonathan Bostic said.
"There was no finger-pointing at halftime," Quinn said. "We talked about what they needed to do. It wasn't complicated and it was all correctable."
The improved defense second-half defense gave the Florida offense -- and sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel, making his first career start -- more possessions and more time to find a rhythm.
The Gators ran just 26 plays on offense in the first half, but ran 39 in the second half when the Gators took the lead for good early in the fourth quarter after A&M's third punt in four possessions.
"We cleared our heads and came out and played ball," Floyd said. "We got into our fits, worried about our jobs and got done what we had to get done."
Muschamp left Texas without firing anyone.
"I really think the strength of our defense is our team -- our entire defense," Quinn said. "We don't have to wait for some guy, one guy, to make a play to get things going. We have a number of guys who just know how to play and are capable of doing that. When we do it right, and together, we're a pretty good defense."