COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Two games in, the Florida Gators have shown themselves to be a stunningly explosive offensive team, one of the best in the nation, but Coach Dan Mullen is after an element of completeness from his program that has yet to rear itself.
Not even close.
Great teams, ones that aspire to championships, don’t give up 613 yards or deal with late-game lulls that allow opponents back into games. Ones that do and are stocked with talent, though, can improve and that will be the next step for the third-ranked Gators (2-0, 2-0) when they face off against No. 21 Texas A&M (1-1) in Saturday’s high-noon Southeastern Conference affair at Kyle Field.
[Read Scott Carter‘s comprehensive “Pregame Stuff” setup here]
UF opened the COVID-delayed 2020 season two weeks ago with a 51-35 shootout victory at Ole Miss, an outcome that put just as much scrutiny on a defense bombarded for the third-most yards in school history as a Kyle Trask-led offense that lit up the Rebels for 642 yards and six touchdown passes. Last week, the Gators went back and forth early against South Carolina in their home opener, swaping a pair of touchdowns each, before Florida rolled to 24 unanswered points and led 38-14 late in the third quarter. The Gamecocks, though, scored 10 straight points and had the ball with more than eight minutes to go and a chance to make it a one-score game, but grossly mismanaged the clock — taking seven-plus minutes off on their last possession — and allowed UF to exit with a 38-24 win that, while effective, was less than satisfying.
The Aggies, in their third season under Coach Jimbo Fisher, are a foe that can make the Gators pay for defensive lapses or lack of killer instinct. The same was not the case for UF’s first two opponents.
A&M is averaging 441.0 yards per game, which ranks 38th nationally, including 262.0 yards passing (30th), thanks mostly to senior quarteback Kellen Mond (58.3 percent, 507 yards, 4 TD, 1 INT). The Aggies rush for 149.0 yards a game, which is fifth-best in the SEC, with the tailback tandem of Isaiah Spiller (148 yards, 7.5 per carry) and Ainias Smith (85 yards, 5.3 per) doing most of the damage, but Mond always a threat to take off from the pocket, as well. He’s one of two Power Five conference quarterbacks in the country with at least 7,000 passing yards and 1,200 rushing yards for his career.
The Aggies probably are looking at the Gators’ defense believing they can make some hay against a unit ranked 65th nationally, allowing 471.0 yards per game, and 68th in pass defense at 327.7 per game. Florida also has allowed teams to convert 48.4 percent of their third downs (that’s 10th in the SEC), and last week allowed the Gamecocks 11 conversions total, including five-for-six on fourth down.
Texas A&M, of course, has its own defensive issues after Alabama’s quarterback Mac Jones shredded the Aggies for 435 yards in a 52-24 blowout that was out of hand (35-14) at halftime. The Crimson Tide, though, didn’t mess around. They finished.
Think Mullen and his staff pointed that out during meetings and film sessions this week?
Trask, an early front-runner in the Heisman Trophy conversation, will take aim at a defense giving up 399.5 yards per game. The Aggies ranked 58th in pass defense and 71st in pass efficiency defense — and that’s with one of their two games coming against Vanderbilt, hardly known for its aerial assault. Trask has hit a sterling 71.4 percent of his throws for 684 yards, 10 touchdowns and one interception, helping Florida to a two-game point total of 89 that is the program’s largest in back-to-back SEC games since Tim Tebow’s swan-song season of 2009. Tight end Kyle Pitts ranks first among FBS receivers (any position) with six touchdown catches, and the Gators rate fourth in scoring (44.5 points per game) and 13th nationally in total offense (495.0 yards per game).
Those last two statistics, again, came after a fourth quarter last week of no points and just nine yards of offense on 10 plays.
The Aggies represent the best team the Gators will have played to date, and an ideal opportunity to hone some self-labled weaknesseses, as the championship-building process continues.
Kickoff is set for noon on ESPN, with the crew of Dave Pasch on play-by-play, Greg McElroy providing analysis, and Holly Rowe working the sidelines. The game will be rebroadcasted Sunday at 4 a.m. on ESPN2, and Monday at 12 a.m. and 9 a.m., both on ESPNU. For Gator Radio Network information, click here.
Finally, follow senior staff writer Scott Carter on Twitter (@GatorsScott) for commentary and analysis throughout the afternoon. FloridaGators.com will have complete coverage from the game Saturday and fresh content Sunday, as well.