A statement victory.
That’s what the 20-17 win against Texas A&M was for the Florida Gators on Saturday.
A statement that while it is still a process, the Gators are moving in the correct direction.
A statement that a team must earn its stripes before declaring supremacy in the Southeastern Conference.
A statement that Jeff Driskel can be the leader of this team.
The victory gives Florida (2-0) momentum as it next travels to another destination sure to be full of fury: Knoxville, Tenn.
Before looking ahead to next week’s matchup with Tennessee, here are five keys to Florida’s come-from-behind-victory against the Aggies:
5. The ground game
Coming into Saturday, it was clear the team that won the battle at the line of scrimmage would place itself in better position to win.
It is difficult to say Florida won the line of scrimmage battle, as Driskel was sacked far too many times.
However, Florida was still able to run the ball successfully.
Again, that started with Mike Gillislee.
Gillislee ran for a robust 5.9 yards per carry, something he has proven to be capable of throughout his career. However, he was given the ball just 14 times Saturday after being hobbled with a groin injury.
Still, in that time, he collected 83 yards and two more scores.
Augmenting his production was Solomon Patton, who took three end-arounds for 31 yards, the final run cementing a Florida victory. Even Driskel showed the elusiveness Gators fans had hoped he would develop.
Texas A&M’s lead back, Christine Michael, finished the day with just 33 yards on 13 carries, an unproductive night. Johnny Manziel led the Aggies with 60 yards on the ground, but 41 of those yards came in the first half.
In the second half, the Florida front seven proved stout, keeping Texas A&M from developing any rhythm.
Early in the game, it looked as if Florida would again suffer from a lack of discipline, as Marcus Roberson was flagged for a possession-extending personal foul on the first Texas A&M drive of the game.
However, all things considered, Florida was able to clean up its act significantly from a week ago.
The Gators were flagged for just three penalties for 21 yards Saturday. Texas A&M, however, was flagged nine times for 78 yards.
The ability to eliminate a majority of false starts kept the Florida offense in more manageable situations, something it took advantage of behind an efficient Driskel.
3. Jon Bostic
With early injuries to Jelani Jenkins and an assortment of other Gators, Bostic needed to play lights out.
That’s exactly what the senior did.
The anchor in the middle of the field, Bostic cleaned up several broken plays. When Manziel escaped the pocket, he was able to wrestle him down in the open field, allowing his defense off the field — something that has haunted Florida in the past.
He also added a pass deflection on one Texas A&M third down.
All in all, he was the best player on the Florida defense Saturday. His strength to shed blockers and make tackles, combined with his agility to chase down ball carriers, was a major determinant in the Florida defense stabilizing in the second half.
2. Jeff Driskel’s efficiency
Driskel was a cool 13-for-16 for 162 yards. Numbers that certainly will not blow anyone away, but proved efficient enough to win the game.
With the defense Florida has, Driskel’s job is not to lead a high-flying offensive attack. His job is to perform well in the pocket, make the necessary throws and manage games.
Saturday, he did that.
For the second game in a row, Driskel did not turn the ball over. Instead, he allowed his running backs to do much of the work and made a few plays himself.
His 39-yard completion to Omarius Hines showed the touch he has when given time and the ability to step up in the pocket.
Also for the second game in a row, Driskel had a Tebow-esque scramble, making something out of nothing. Saturday, he rolled through several defenders en route to a 21-yard, momentum-building gain.
1. Making adjustments
In the first half, it looked as if Texas A&M might run Florida right out of the stadium. Manziel looked sensational, and the Florida defense looked tired, confused and in disarray.
The Aggies ran 46 first-half plays, gaining 269 yards and scoring 17 points. Needless to say, it didn’t seem like the Florida defense had much to stop the onslaught.
However, at halftime, Gators coach Will Muschamp brought his guys together and made the necessary changes.
“It was crystal clear. There was one guy talking, and I told them what to do,” Muschamp said.
“We did a better job in the second half controlling the line of scrimmage. That was the difference. There was no magic potion.”
Whatever it was, the results were much better for Florida.
In the second half, Texas A&M went three-and-out on four drives and was held scoreless, while Florida added 10 points, giving the Gators the 20-17 victory.