Keys to the Game: No. 23 Florida at Texas A&M

By Jerry Hinnen | College Football Writer
Mike Gillislee will have to have a big day on the ground if the Gators are going to defeat Texas A&M on Saturday. (Getty Images)

WHO, WHEN, WHERE: No. 23 Florida at Texas A&M, Saturday, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN.

FLORIDA WILL WIN IF: Its secondary is as good as advertised. First-year A&M coach Kevin Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury have talked about establishing a running game, about making sure they get tailback Christine Michael involved. But this is still the same offensive braintrust that learned at the feet of Mike Leach and made Case Keenum Case Keenum. Michael or no Michael, talk or no talk, if the Aggies don't throw to set up the run it'll be an out-and-out shock.

Unfortunately for the Aggies, actually accomplishing that goal might be easier said than done. The Gators secondary is loaded with talent and experience -- all four starters return from 2011, all four were four-star recruits or better, and former five-star junior safety Matt Elam might be on his way to All-SEC honors -- and unlike their teammates, they looked the part against Bowling Green; potential All-MAC quarterback Matt Schilz completed fewer than 50 percent of his passes and threw for just 4.3 yards per attempt.

Aggies quarterback Johnny Manziel and receivers like Ryan Swope and Uzoma Nwachukwuobviously will present a much greater challenge. But if the Gators defensive backs can continue to play up to their potential, the A&M offense might not look much like the Houston attacks that got Sumlin hired.

TEXAS A&M WILL WIN IF: It can stop Mike Gillislee. This, too, is easier said than done. The senior tailback took advantage of finally ascending to the Gators' starting job by rushing for 148 yards on 6.2 a carry against the Falcons, and on paper his offensive line -- with four of five starters back including four-year starter Xavier Nixon -- has a major advantage over the Aggies' reshuffled defensive front.

But if A&M can hold its own, the rewards should be decisive. The Gators receivers didn't appear to have turned the corner from "kind of just out there" to "yes, you have to worry about us" against BGSU. And sophomore quarterback Jeff Driskel was far from terrible (10-of-16, 7.1 YPA, no interceptions), but he didn't look like a difference-maker, either. It won't help him that his second career start will come in a Kyle Field atmosphere that promises to be as loud and rabid as any anywhere.

You get the idea: If the Aggies put the clamps on the Gators running game, it's hard to see Driskel and Co. doing enough to keep pace with an Aggies offense that should put some points on the board regardless of the Gators' secondary strength.

THE X-FACTOR: This wasn't supposed to be the Aggies' season debut as well as its SEC debut, of course. Hurricane Isaac had other ideas, though, and now A&M will head into the game as the SEC's biggest enigma. On the plus side, there's no film for Florida to study, even going back to last season. On the down side, a program undergoing major schematic overhauls on both sides of the ball could likely have used the tuneup before taking on a team as talented as the Gators. Whether the week off proves to be a blessing or a curse remains to be seen.

 
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