Second-Half Surge Lifts Gators to Road Win Over Aggies - Florida Gators (2024)

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – Before the Gators rolled out of bed and boarded busses aimed at Kyle Field and the 11 a.m. CT kickoff on Saturday, the matchup with the Aggies was difficult to gauge.

Both teams woke up next to unwanted guests: losing streaks. Florida had lost two in a row. Texas A&M had dropped four consecutive games, a hard crash from its preseason No. 6 ranking.

The pulsometer on this one read: anyone's game. The Gators altered that report in the third quarter, arguably the best 15 minutes of football they have played under first-year head coach Billy Napier.

While creating some angst before finally putting the Aggies away, Florida regained the momentum and never looked back in a 41-24 Southeastern Conference road win. The Gators (5-4, 2-4) moved a win closer to bowl eligibility and won their first SEC road game since 2020.

After a pair of postgame interviews on the field, Napier chomped his way to the locker room as the orange-and-blue-clad corner of the stadium showeredhim with cheers.

"There's a certain part of this game we've been working hard on, and I think it showed up today," Napier said. "The execution was there. Really proud of the defense to shut this group down in the second half to play complementary football. I'm pretty sure we didn't turn the ball over. Three weeks in a row that we haven't turned the ball over.

"We've gotten takeaways. We're starting to play football the way it's intended to be played in just the energy and the approach."

The decisive stretch that separated the Gators and Aggies (3-6, 1-5) after a back-and-forth first half that ended with Florida trailing 24-20 arrived after halftime. Florida forced the Aggies to go three-and-out on the second half's opening possession. Xzavier Henderson returned the ensuing punt 28 yards to the Aggies' 40.

UF quarterback Anthony Richardson connected with receiver Ricky Pearsall for a 21-yard gain on first down, and on the next play, Richardson tossed a bullet toward the back of the end zone that Ja'Quavion Fraziars hauled in for a 19-yard score to put Florida up 27-24.

"In our system, we call it yes/no,'' Richardson said of the play. "That's pretty much our option. If I like it, yes, go ahead and throw the ball. If I don't like, no, don't throw the ball. So, I looked out there, and I felt confident with the matchup. And I just let it go and he made a great play.

"Way better catch [than throw]."

Second-Half Surge Lifts Gators to Road Win Over Aggies - Florida Gators (1)

Back in the lead, the Gators didn't let up. Richardson tossed a 12-yard touchdown pass to Caleb Douglas with 3:58 remaining in the third quarter, capping a 10-play, 81-yard drive that ate more than five minutes off the clock. Richardson twisted to avoid the rush, and Douglas reached over a Texas A&M defender for his second touchdown catch of the season.

When the third quarter ended, the Gators led 34-24 thanks to their domination. Florida had 11 first downs in the period to Texas A&M's one. The Gators outgained the Aggies 179-29, forced four Aggie punts, and controlled possession for more than 10 minutes.

The Aggies weren't fully smoked, but all signs started pointing that way after Princely Umanmielen made the defensive play of the game with a strip sack of Aggies quarterback Haynes King, preserving Florida's 10-point lead.

The second half was a stark contrast to the first when Texas A&M amassed 307 yards of total offense and scored all four times in the red zone. Napier attributed the defensive turnaround more to attitude than specific adjustments.

"I don't think it's about the play call. I don't think it's about the fundamentals. I think it's about what's going on between the ears,'' he said. "I think it's about the relationships in the room. I think it's about being committed to the people around you and playing the game with those intentions, and I think [an] early kick, we stumble out of the blocks. Obviously, we all watched it. It's nothing to be proud of about it, but ultimately, when adversity is presented to you, it gives you an opportunity to prove what you are made of.

"We took a step in the right direction in that regard today."

Meanwhile, the offense did its part against a depleted Aggies team that was missing six players due to the flu and 11 more to injuries. Texas A&M also lost defensive back Jaylon Jones in the first quarter for targeting on a tackle of Pearsall.

Richardson finished 17 of 28 for 201 yards and two touchdowns, and the Gators added 291 yards rushing. Montrell Johnson Jr. rushed for 100 yards, Trevor Etienne had 80, and Richardson contributed 78, including a 60-yard dash late in the first quarter that put the Gators up 17-14. Johnson's 5-yard scoring run in the fourth quarter put the Aggies away for good.

The loss was Texas A&M's fifth consecutive, its longest losing streak since 1980.

"Coming out in second half, disappointing,'' Aggies coach Jimbo Fisher said. "They started getting control of the line of scrimmage a little bit. Being able to run the ball on offense and us not being able to do it. Putting your line in a tough situation because then you get in the drop-back game."

In their first game without veteran defensive lineman Brenton Cox Jr., dismissed from the team earlier in the week, Florida's defense limited the Aggies to 106 yards after halftime. Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr. started and finished with six tackles, two tackles for loss and a forced fumble.

Veteran linebacker Ventrell Miller was glad to step to the podium and talk about a stellar defensive performance for a change following a win after back-to-back losses to LSU and Georgia.

"We know we started off flat-footed,'' Miller said. "Just taking ownership of that, and like I said, we just got the boys motivated second half and everybody came out and did their job, and we showed them how the Florida Gators defense can play."

A few minutes after cranking those Gator Chomps leaving the field, Napier praised his team for not caving in when they had the chance.

"This is a group that just keeps showing up,'' Napier said.

Earlier than usual on Saturday, but they returnedhome Saturday night with a much-needed win.

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Second-Half Surge Lifts Gators to Road Win Over Aggies - Florida Gators (2024)


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