Florida's second-half recovery gives Gator's win in Texas A&M's first SEC matchup
Published: Saturday, September 8, 2012
Updated: Sunday, September 9, 2012 01:09
No. 24 Florida inducted Texas A&M into the new-look SEC Saturday afternoon in a game that ended with the Gators on top.
Trailing 17-10 at half, the Gators held the Aggies scoreless in the second half and edged A&M 20-17 in front of the ninth-largest crowd in Kyle Field history.
Redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel made his debut under the eyes of more than 87,000 at Kyle Field, hours after ESPN College Gameday host Lee Corso picked the Aggies to win. For two quarters Manziel thrilled the audience with his legs and his judgment behind center. But halftime came and went and head coach Kevin Sumlin’s offense went cold and took the 17-10 halftime advantage along with it.
Sumlin said any feared carryover from last season’s woeful second half collapses under former head coach Mike Sherman is “the elephant in the room.”
“About the psyche of the team, I’ve said it before,” Sumlin said. “Based on this game today, which is the only game I’ve coached here, I didn’t feel like we couldn’t make the plays in the fourth quarter. We still had a chance to win the game.”
Manziel ended his afternoon with 173 yards in the air on 23-30 passing and a team-high 17 rushing attempts for 60 yards. His only score came on the ground, but the freshman managed an Aggie offense that committed no turnovers. Offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury said he “couldn’t be more proud” of Manziel.
“It’s the first game he’s played in this offense,” Kingsbury said. “He has a chance to be a really good player. He caught them off guard a little bit in the first half.”
After racking up 18 first downs in the first half, the Manziel-led unit managed just three in the second. Sophomore punter Ryan Epperson, inactive in the first two quarters, was forced into use on each of the Aggies’ first six possessions of the second half.
Sumlin said mental mistakes impacted the result — the Aggies committed nine penalties for 78 yards.
“One of the things that I’ve talked about since I’ve gotten here that we wanted to improve on and failed to do today was penalties,” Sumlin said. “Penalties are the difference in the things that we can control. We’ve got to spend more time doing the things that we need to do to win the game, and that’s not to take anything away from Florida.”
Though the defense mustered eight sacks and limited the Florida offense to 16 yards rushing in the first half, senior linebacker Sean Porter called the loss “embarrassing.”
“We shouldn’t lose games because of mental mistakes and we talked about that all summer,” Porter said. “I’m really tired of losing games and talking about what should have happened. Whatever it is we need to figure out what we need to do to win games.”
Senior linebacker Jonathon Stewart said the team can’t dwell on lost games.
“That’s the great thing about football, it’s twelve one-game seasons,” Stewart said. “We lost the first season, and now we have to move on.”