Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Ag Football Recap: Florida Welcomes Ags to SEC, 20-17

We heard the drum cadence and then saw the team on the Gigatron marching from below the east stands from the locker room to the north-east corner of Kyle Field - where the team used to enter three coaching regimes ago.  We saw Sumlin in his visor and shades emerge from the shadows of the tunnel in front of a crowd of bouncing maroon jerseys.

Sumlin looked serious, but still cracked a smile - it wasn't a smile of humor but of confidence - like he had been ready his whole life for this moment.  He turned around to a couple of the players nearest him - not barking instruction at them but making some casual comments before giving them fist bumps.  The drum cadence stopped and the musical intro to Kanye West's "Power" kicked on, the entire stadium jumped, the smoke kicked on - Sumlin gave the "Go" and the players launched out onto the field.

It was an awesome way to start the season - the first of the 100-year decision.

We left Houston at about 10:45am to make sure we had time to get up to College Station, get some Wings N' More, and get to the stadium in time for the usual pre-game events to start.
This was Sean and my first game in our new seats after spending last season at the top of the Zone and the 11 years prior to that in the student section.  We are now up on the third deck on the east side of the stadium in 301 (the furthest south section) - we're about 5 seats from the wall at the side of the deck.  Frankly, they're much better than last season.  We were not able to get our seats next to each other so there is a single seat between us - that guy must have overdone it at his tailgate because he didn't show up.  To my right were a couple of teenage kids, in front of us were an older couple (probably in their late 50s-early 60s) and behind us were a couple of guys probably in the mid-to-late 30s.

This was a tale of two halves.  We played well in the first half - not great, but about as well as a team could in the opener.  There were certainly a couple of missed opportunities.  One of those that isn't getting much run online was on our opening drive we got inside the Gator's 15 yard line and Johnny Manziel threw two great passes that our WRs high-pointed but had the ball ripped out of their hands by the defensive backs on the way down.  We had to settle for a FG.

Johnny Football was pretty impressive.  In the first half he had me thinking about creative t-shirt ideas for a future All-American - in the second half he reminded me that he was a freshman taking his first career snaps against a top 10 defense.  I'm excited about his future but it could be frustrating in the meantime.
In the first half Johnny threw for 141 yards on 16-for-20 passing (that included both of the INC touchdowns as well as a sick Mike Evans catch just before the intermission that was ruled INC because Evans foot went out of bounds just before he went up to make the catch).  He ran for another 41 yards in the 1st half, including several bigtime third down conversions and a big scramble into the endzone.  In the second half Coach Muschamp loaded up the box, put a spy on him, and made Johnny throw the ball deep.

It worked.  We punted on each of our 6 second half possessions including four 3-and-outs.

While Ryan Epperson was getting worn out Florida chipped away at the 17-10 halftime lead with a FG and a second TD rushing TD from Mike Gillisee pushing them to a 20-17 lead.

Johnny Football finished the day with 60 yards and a TD on the ground and was 23-of-30 for 173 yards in the air - with 0 turnovers.

C-Mike was noticeably ineffective gaining only 33 yards on 13 carries (plus 15 yards on 3 receptions).  One wrinkle we saw was a wildcat formation with C-Mike - he was stuffed at the LOS on the first attempt and scored a 1 yard TD on the second attempt.

Trey Williams is going to be a stud - he is so flippin' quick.  He had 18 yards on 5 carries in his college debut.  Ben Malena only had 3 carries but had the season's first TKO when he plowed into a Florida defender inside the 10 yard line.

As ineffective as C-Mike was, Ryan Swope and EZ were equally.  Swope had 5 catches for 16 yards and EZ didn't touch the ball.  RS-F Mike Evans was the top WR with 7 receptions for 60 yards....27 of which came on a wonderful Statue of Liberty play run with Kenric McNeal making the pass.  It was the longest pass of the day.  Freshman Thomas Johnson made the catch of what could be the season with a one handed backwards leap that got him hammered by the safety.

I think the thing that was most evident on Florida's side was their team speed.  In the past, C-Mike could get to the outside and turn the corner and get up field - this was not possible against the Gators.  It was also evident on screens out to the flats where in the past if the WR could break one tackle he'd be able to pick up 8-12 yards before the next defender reached him.  The second Gator to those WRs was stopping him as he was breaking the initial tackle.

I was a little surprised at the speed we ran our plays.  I was fully expecting it to be warp speed running up to the line and getting the ball snapped.  It was fast, but not nearly as fast as I expected.  Even at the speed we ran it we were slowed down by Gator injuries.  I'm sure that a good number of these injuries were legitimate but they all weren't - particularly in the second half.  The team that invented Gatorade cramped up like something awful.  But no one was ever stretched out by the trainers.

I did think the defense played well.  We know that this isn't the most prolific offensive squad in the country but we've made a habit of making bad offenses look good.  They held their own against a team that was bound and determined to pound the rock.  The Gators only had 307 yards off total offense (142 rushing and 165 passing)

Damontre Moore was the defensive standout with 10 tackles and 3 sacks - it was probably the best game we've seen him play.  I was also a little surprised with was how little it seemed we subbed our DL.  This is a MUCH better conditioned team than the one we had last year.

One thing we do need to button up is not putting our opponents in favorable 2nd and 3rd down situations.  On Florida's first 5 possessions of the second half they had 15 first down snaps....only five of those plays were for gains less than five yards. It's a heckuva lot easier to move the ball down the field when you're always in a 2nd-and-4 situation.

All in all, it is disapointing that we didn't walk away from this game with a victory.  The stage was set for one of those magical games but it wasn't to be.  They always say that teams improve the most from game one to game two - It's a shame we didn't have that game one in Shreveport to work out the kinks.

This weekend we have our game up in Dallas against SMU before coming home for a couple of weeks with South Carolina State and Arkansas.

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