COLLEGE STATION — Field dimensions and the number of players on the field are no different in the Southeastern Conference than in the Big 12, but the Florida Gators put on a second-half show of why the SEC has been so dominant the last several years.
The No. 24 Gators held the Aggies to three first downs and six punts in the second half and Mike Gillislee scored the go-ahead touchdown with 13:05 left to spoil Texas A&M’s SEC debut 20-17 on Saturday at Kyle Field.
“In any game like that, when games are that close, execution becomes key,” said first-year Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin. “We didn’t make enough plays to win the game; Florida did.”
Gillislee scored Florida’s (2-0, 1-0 SEC) two touchdowns and Caleb Sturgis kicked field goals of 51 and 25 yards to lift the Gators to their eighth straight SEC-opening win.
Texas A&M (0-1) led 17-7 after Christine
Michael’s 1-yard touchdown run, but Sturgis drilled his school record seventh career field goal of 50 yards or more with 1:49 left in the first half. His 25-yard with 11:02 left in the third cut the Aggies’ lead to 17-13.
Jeff Driskel’s 39-yard completion to Omarius Hines set up Gillislee’s score.
“We were composed at halftime,” Driskel said. “No one hung their head. No one was pointing fingers. We just corrected the things we needed to correct. We knew we had another half to play. Only being down a touchdown is really nothing, especially with the defense playing the way they were.”
Led by redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Aggies put up 269 yards in the first half, including 101 on the ground, and scored on every possession but their last. But the Gators all but shut down the Aggies running attack which included Manziel. Texas A&M finished with 334 yards total, 134 on the ground.
Manziel, who leap-frogged former Shoemaker quarterback Jameill Showers for the starting spot in College Station, completed 16 of 20 passes for 141 yards, ran nine times for 55 yards, and led the Aggies to scores on all but their last offensive series of the first half.
But that was the first half. He finished 23-of-30 for 173 yards passing and ran 17 times for a team-leading 78 yards and a touchdown.
“Johnny Manziel is an amazing athlete. He made plays for the team,” Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “We did a better job in the second half controlling the line of scrimmage. That was the difference.”
Manziel led the Aggies to a game-opening field goal by Taylor Bertolet and following Gillislee’s 4-yard touchdown, reclaimed a 10-7 lead with an 11-yard scoring run less than two minutes into the second quarter.
Then, the Aggies’ defense stood up.
After Manziel’s score, Texas A&M posted three sacks and the Gators managed one first down on a personal foul face mask penalty on a second-and-long play before having to punt for the first time.
A 27-yard end around pass from Kenric McNeal to Mike Evans set up Christine Michael’s first rushing touchdown of the season and a 17-7 Aggies lead with 7:01 left in the second quarter.
The Aggies put together a healthy drive looking for one more score before halftime, but the drive stalled at the Florida 41.
Texas A&M’s defense was mostly stout throughout, holding the Gators to just 307 yards, forcing five punts and posting eight sacks, but the Aggies’ offense couldn’t take advantage.
“I think we came first half, felt good, felt confident, what it really came down to in the second half was just doing your job,” said A&M senior receiver Ryan Swope. “I think we beat ourselves.”