The national spotlight is on Florida and Texas A&M.
Saturday’s game in College Station, Texas, is the Aggies’ first foray into the Southeastern Conference and will be televised nationally on ESPN, which has its flagship program College GameDay on hand for scheduled broadcasting bright and early. And they will have plenty to talk about in previewing this game.
From smack talk and billboards, to rowdy Kyle Field, new coaches, quarterback battles and even hurricanes, the discussion and prognosticating should reach a fever pitch. Much of the pregame talk has been about the cancelation of the Aggies’ season opener and how that affected the game-planning on both sides for Saturday’s game p.m.
No. 24 Florida (1-0) looked sloppy in its opener; Texas A&M (0-0) didn’t have a chance to test a new offense under new coach Kevin Sumlin. But none of that will matter if Gators sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel doesn’t play well in his first true start.
UF coach Will Muschamp called the game “critical.”
“It is an important game because it’s the next one and because it’s an SEC game,” he said. “It’s a critical game for us to go on the road and play well, to improve from Game 1 to Game 2, which we need to. And I think we will.”
That starts at quarterback with Driskel, who was named the starter Monday after battling fellow sophomore Jacoby Brissett since spring. Driskel played the majority of the snaps against Bowling Green last weekend, completing 10 of 16 passes for 114yards and a touchdown. Most important, he didn’t have a turnover. But Florida is sure to open up the offense against Texas A&M, yet with Driskel just this week starting to get the lion’s share of repetitions in practice, Muschamp said not to expect perfection.
“It’s part of the growing process at that position,” he said. “But I think we help ourselves further by naming a starter and moving forward.”
After admittedly being overwhelmed in big moments as a freshman, Driskel said he’s ready for the opportunity, calling it a “lifelong dream.”
“We’ve played in atmospheres like we’re going to see at Texas A&M,” he said. “[Muschamp] just wants me to go out there and play and not worry about looking over my shoulder. He wants me to play loose and calm and that’s what I’m going to do.”
Driskel had help last Saturday from running back Mike Gillislee, who rushed for 148yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries. But the Gators also must be able to move through the air this week, as Sumlin’s Houston team last year led the nation in points scored, yards per game and plays per game.
Muschamp said Driskel’s biggest jump from last year has been in his maturity, and that could prove to be the difference between Driskel and his counterpart, true freshman Johnny Manziel, the difference between a solid road win and a debilitating loss at the onset of an eight-game conference slate.