Florida’s 5 keys for success in pivotal matchup against Texas A&M

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It’s amazing how a 1-point loss can offset a three-game winning streak so instantaneously, but it has indeed been a rough week on social media for Florida fans in the aftermath of that tough defeat to LSU on Saturday.

There is frustration, criticism and negativity. Hope is waning for the offense, while doubt is mounting for the coaching staff brought in to fix it.

And yet, to borrow a phrase from coach Jim McElwain, the Gators still control their own destiny in the SEC East.

Sure, it’s hard to picture the Florida team that mustered just 302 total offense yards against a reeling LSU team rising up to knock off division leader Georgia in a couple weeks, but one game at a time.

First, the Gators (3-2, 3-1 SEC) host Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1) in a hugely important game this week in The Swamp.

Win this one, restore at least a little confidence in the offense and who knows what can happen two weeks from now in Jacksonville and beyond?

“You know, we’ve still got a lot to play for. We still haven’t lost in the East,” linebacker David Reese said Monday. “We still have this week and this is the biggest week. Just looking ahead, just a little bit, we’ve got Georgia. That’s a big [game] that’s in our face, obviously. Not to look over Texas A&M, but we know that game’s coming and it’s going to have to be played, so we’re excited about that. We’re excited to just to try to get this feeling out of our mouth this week.”

Yeah, step one is definitely not overlooking a solid Texas A&M team that had won four straight games before a respectable 27-19 loss to Alabama.

Just as important as not looking forward, though, is not looking back and dwelling on what could have been in that 17-16 loss to LSU. The Gators could be in a much different position had they gotten the hold down smoothly for a routine extra point, had a couple other plays gone differently, had they been able to do anything offensively on their final three possessions.

That’s the way it goes, though.

“Everybody’s frustrated, but we’re a tight-knit group and we’re going to come in and work hard. [Sunday night] at dinner, everybody was focused on the next game [vs.] Texas A&M,” offensive lineman Tyler Jordan said. “You can’t look back. I mean it’s over, it’s in the past.”

Indeed, but there were some lessons the Gators do need to carry forward from that defeat.

Here are their five keys to success this week against the Aggies.

No excuses on offense

Florida finished with just 108 passing yards against the Tigers for the lowest total in McElwain’s three seasons, while redshirt freshman Feleipe Franks attempted only one true downfield pass (a long incompletion).

On Monday, McElwain suggested that the Gators had some downfield play calls that they weren’t able to get executed in that game. It was the same thing in the season-opening loss to Michigan, that Florida struggled because it didn’t get the ball to its “get-it-to” guys.

Enough with the excuses. Find a way.

There are teams around the country with far less talented offensive personnel that still manage to create opportunities in the passing game. Yes, top wideout Tyrie Cleveland was out and might be out again this week due to his high-ankle sprain, but Josh Hammond and Freddie Swain were 4-star recruits. Brandon Powell is veteran with big games on his resume. Freshman Daquon Green is another 4-star talent waiting for an opportunity. Dre Massey has had two preseasons worth of hype.

If one of those planned downfield shots doesn’t materialize when called, call it again and again. Make an adjustment against what the defense is showing. If receivers aren’t creating separation, give someone else a try.

Texas A&M ranks 107th nationally against the pass, giving up an average of 263.5 yards per game through the air, and that stat would be even worse if not for the Alabama game in which the Crimson Tide passed for only 123 yards while riding their rushing attack for 232 yards on the ground.

UCLA lit the Aggies up for 491 passing yards, Nicholls State managed 264 and every opponent but Alabama has totaled at least 216 yards through the air against the Aggies.

If Franks and the Gators can’t find life in the passing game this week, it’s going to be hard to sell optimism moving forward.

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Freshman running back Malik Davis has totaled at least 90 rushing yards in four straight games. (Jordan McPherson/SEC Country)

Feed Malik Davis

Freshman sensation Malik Davis had just 6 carries in the first half against LSU, turning one of those into a 25-yard gain.

He’d go on to finish the game with 90 yards on 14 touches, averaging 6.4 yards per attempt. For the season he’s averaging 7.2 yards per carry and ranks fourth in rushing in SEC play.

He’s now rushed for at least 90 yards in four straight games and leads the team with 409 yards overall. It’s not a fluke.

There’s no reason not to get him going at the start of the game and let him find his rhythm much earlier.

While Florida needs to breathe life into its passing attack, it will still build around the run. Sophomore Lamical Perine deserves a role too. He’s coming off his two best games of the season and has proven he can be an impactful rusher.

But Davis is Florida’s best offensive player right now, and there’s no reason to wait until the second half to unleash him this week.

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Freshman dual-threat quarterback Kellen Mond has been an exciting addition for Texas A&M. (Bob Levey/Getty Images)

Mitigate Kellen Mond

Speaking of impression freshmen …

A week after getting consistently beat on jet sweeps by LSU receivers exploiting the edge, Florida now must deal with a dual-threat quarterback putting up big numbers through the air and on the ground

First-year freshman Kellen Mond was rated the No. 3 dual-threat QB in the Class of 2017, according to the 247Sports composite, and he’s living up to that lofty billing.

He’s passed for 1,045 yards, 7 touchdowns and 3 interceptions while rushing for 266 yards and 2 scores.

Mond can truly make an impact both ways. Last week against Alabama he passed for 237 yards as the Tide contained him on the ground, but the week prior he rushed for a team-best 95 yards in a win over South Carolina.

The 6-foot-2, 210-pound playmaker is one of the most exciting freshmen in the country, and containing him is the key for Florida’s defense Saturday.

“People don’t really want to attack us up the middle or deal with that front seven. (They’re) going to try to do what they can and get around us,” Reese said. “We just got to know that coming into next week and just work, just try to figure it out.”

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Freshman Shawn Davis could be in line for a bigger role with safeties Nick Washington and Chauncey Gardner Jr. both banged up this week. (Jordan McPherson/SEC Country)

Statement game for D

Florida’s young defense has looked far more vulnerable than the veteran units of past years, but give the Gators credit for making effective halftime adjustments last week and holding LSU scoreless for the final quarter and a half.

Now, though, it’s time for this young defense to really make a statement.

Texas A&M is the best offense Florida has faced this season, and given its own scoring limitations a shootout would not be conducive to success for the Gators.

The Aggies average 34.3 points per game and have scored at least 44 points in three of their first six games.

It’s not just Mond. Running backs Trayveon Williams (422 yards, 5.2 yards per carry, 5 TDs) and Keith Ford (321, 4.7, 7 TDs) are both capable of swinging games. Williams rushed for 203 yards against UCLA while Ford has two 100-yard games (114 vs. UCLA and 102 vs. Arkansas).

And Christian Kirk (27 catches for 316 yards and 5 TDs) is one of the most experienced and established receivers in the SEC.

It sounds like senior safety Nick Washington (shoulder) is out for Florida, while the status of sophomore safety Chauncey Gardner Jr. is also in question. That could mean even more youth in the secondary with freshmen Shawn Davis, Brad Stewart and Donovan Stiner, redshirt freshman Quincy Lenton and sophomore Jeawon Taylor among the options there. Meanwhile, the Gators are already relying heavily on freshmen cornerbacks Marco Wilson and C.J. Henderson.

Florida needs those young DBs, and their defense in general, to rise to the challenge Saturday.

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Wide receiver Dre Massey catches a pass during practice. (Jordan McPherson/SEC Country)

Audition Dre Massey

Freshman playmaker Kadarius Toney, the “Human Joystick” as McElwain has called him, is also on the injury list this week.

It’s not clear yet if his status is truly in doubt, but that’s a concern nonetheless for the Gators as Toney has been among their most exciting players between his wildcat reps and his ability to turn short screens into highlight-reel gains.

McElwain said if Toney can’t go, Massey might fill that wildcat role in the offense. Like Toney, he is a former high school quarterback who converted to receiver. Unlike Toney, he really hasn’t gotten much chance on offense to make an impact with just 1 reception for 2 yards.

Fans clamor every week to see Massey get his shot, mainly because he was so highly-touted last preseason before his unfortunate ACL injury and again this preseason.

If Toney is out, there’s no reason not to see what Massey can do in some of those same packages and plays. And even if Toney is healthy, it would be worth giving Massey a few more opportunities on the outside. If Florida’s receivers were struggling so much to create separation last week, it can’t hurt to try a guy who is considered to be among the fastest on the team.

Just a thought.

The post Florida’s 5 keys for success in pivotal matchup against Texas A&M appeared first on SEC Country.

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