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Gators coach Will Muschamp, left, and special teams coach D.J. Durkin react to a play Saturday at Texas A&M.

Sunday September 9, 2012Gators Make Statement by Rewriting Story of Texas A&M's SEC Debut

Gators coach Will Muschamp, left, and special teams coach D.J. Durkin react to a play Saturday at Texas A&M.

Scott Carter
By SCOTT CARTER Senior Writer

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- More than three hours prior to kickoff Saturday, the Gators stuffed into a small conference room at their hotel about 20 minutes from Kyle Field.

The mood was tense. The message was loud. A clip of Wyatt Earp in "Tombstone" was shown for a Texas-sized impact.

Two words Gators coach Will Muschamp doesn't like to use -- statement game -- were uttered.

Somebody was going to make a statement Saturday in Texas A&M's first game as a member of the SEC. The Aggies could make a grand entrance, or the Gators could deliver a rude welcome in front of the ESPN "College GameDay" cameras and a raucous crowd that waited all summer for the Aggies' SEC debut.

"Everybody wanted the glory story here with A&M,'' Muschamp said after Florida's 20-17 victory, "and they didn't get it."

What they got instead was Florida's most important SEC victory since Muschamp took over the program last season.

The Gators were 0-5 under Muschamp when trailing at halftime. That won-loss record added a much-needed win Saturday. It seemed a far-fetched idea at halftime after the Aggies raced up and down the field with redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel at the controls in the first half.

The Gators seemed helpless in trying to stop the Aggies. They needed to file a missing-persons request for Texas A&M punter Ryan Epperson since he was nowhere to be found.

The second half was a different story as the Gators clamped down defensively.

Texas A&M had six drives in the second half. The Aggies punted six times. Four of those came on three-and-out possessions.

In a matchup pitting one head coach with a defensive background (Muschamp) and one known for his wizardry on offense (Texas A&M's Kevin Sumlin), defense did it for the Gators.

Florida limited Texas A&M to 65 yards and four first downs in the second half.

In an elated locker room afterward, the Gators celebrated their first victory against an SEC West team since 2009 -- snapping a string of seven consecutive losses to the league's other half.

"It definitely builds our confidence, welcoming Texas A&M to the SEC,'' said Gators buck Lerentee McCray, who had one of Florida's three sacks. "We knew we had to go out and gain the country's respect because no one was picking us to win."

Despite a 13-point win over Bowling Green to open the season, the Gators faced ample scrutiny from fans and the media over the past week. Some of it was deserved (14 penalties) and some of it silly (complaints about Florida running the ball too much) considering the outcome.

The chatter didn't fall on deaf ears.

In his postgame press conference early Saturday evening, Muschamp had his say about the lingering debate about the Gators' play in Week 1.

"You know what, and I know I got killed for last week, but there's a reason why we did it,'' he said. "We needed to play that way in order to play that way this week in this ballgame. It's a long season and when they start having one-game seasons, and then we'll start doing everything we can do.

"We'll put everything we can into one game so we can win one game and all be really, really happy at the end. But I like to look at it as a 12-week season and we've got to do what we've got to do to improve our football team to win football games."

Two games -- like one -- do not make a season. The Gators don't have time to savor their victory over the Aggies for long. Next up is a road game at Tennessee, another big SEC game on the schedule.

This is not a Gators team that will blow out teams 50-0 and make it look easy. No, this is a team still trying to find its way back toward the top of the SEC.

The win over Texas A&M was a big step in the right direction.

"We're going to have a lot of games like this -- it's just who we are,'' Muschamp said. "We are going to grind it out."

They grinded out a win Saturday after falling behind and losing defensive starters Jelani Jenkins and Josh Evans to injury. That should be enough regardless of how many times the Gators run the ball or if they dip into offensive coordinator Brent Pease's playbook deep enough for your liking.

A win in the SEC never comes easy, especially on the road.

What it means moving forward no one knows. Maybe the Gators have turned a corner. Maybe they will trip around the next corner.

But Saturday felt different. It felt like the beginning of something. The Gators won sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel's first career start. They won on the road to open SEC play. They overcame a 10-point deficit in doing so, their largest deficit to win since 2006.

"It's a good win,'' linebacker Jon Bostic said. "We grew up as a team today. You saw a lot of those young guys really step into a role and say, 'Hey, I can play in the SEC.' That really helped us out big time."

We get to see what's next in a few days at Neyland Stadium.


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