COLLEGE STATION, Texas â" No easy opener. No chance to work out the kinks against some lower-division team.
Thanks to Hurricane Isaac, Texas A&M and Louisiana Tech postponed last weekâs game in Shreveport until Oct. 13. That means Texas A&M will open its season â" and life in the Southeastern Conference â" against No. 24 Florida on Saturday.
Whether it will be an advantage to the Gators or the Aggies, no oneâs really sure.
âThis is our first game,â new Texas A&M coach Kevin Sumlin said. âYou canât worry about that. We canât change what happened last week. Itâs how you approach it. There are positives and negatives to both. I think any coach would tell you that.â
Sure, Florida had a chance to figure out its quarterback situation and work out some kinks. But last weekâs 27-14 win over Bowling Green also gave the Aggies some tape to look at, something the Gators didnât have this week. Last yearâs tape isnât much help since Sumlin is in his first year at Texas A&M after being hired from Houston in December.
âWe are in a little bit of a guessing game from the standpoint of them not playing, but thatâs always with the first game,â Florida coach Will Muschamp said. âYou go through that as a coach. You kind of go through it when you go into a bowl game and you have that much time off with some different wrinkles that they may give you. We just need to adjust to what weâre doing.â
Florida cornerback Jaylen Watkins said the Gators have been watching tape from Sumlinâs high-flying offenses at Houston to prepare.
âThey have a quick tempo,â Watkins said. âThey try to get you out of rhythm when youâre looking back. Sometimes they look back and they hike the ball when youâre trying to get your call from your coaches. They try to catch you off balance when youâre not paying attention.â
These teams are similar in that they both have quarterbacks who are in their first season as starters. Muschamp named Jeff Driskel his starter Monday after alternating between he and Jacoby Brissett against Bowling Green.
âHe just wants me to go out there and play and not worry about looking over my shoulder,â Driskel said of Muschamp. âHe wants me to play loose and calm and thatâs what Iâm going to do.â
Driskel will be helped by having running back Mike Gillislee in the backfield with him. Gillislee got off to a great start last week, running 24 times for 148 yards and two touchdowns.
Sumlin decided redshirt freshman Johnny Manziel would take over the job left vacant by current Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill a couple of weeks into camp.
âHeâs an inexperienced player and because of that, our surrounding cast of our offensive line or our running backs or our skill people on the perimeter who have experience, have to play well and create a quarterback-friendly atmosphere for him,â Sumlin said. âFortunately weâve got experienced players in those positions.â
Indeed. Texas A&Mâs biggest strength going into the season is a veteran offensive line led by the two tackles, Luke Joeckel and Jake Matthews. The Aggies also hope to get a boost by the return of running back Christine Michael, a senior who has seen his last two seasons end prematurely after breaking his leg in 2010 and tearing an anterior cruciate ligament last season. He ran for 899 yards and eight touchdowns last season before the injury.
The Gators know theyâll be facing a rowdy crowd on Saturday after the Aggies have been waiting months to officially begin the SEC era in College Station. First-year Florida offensive coordinator Brent Pease, a former assistant at Baylor, has tried to convey just how crazy it can get to his players, Swamp experience or not.
âThe thing I do remember is in the third quarter and you look up there and theyâre all swaying, you canât look or youâre going to get like vertigo. Those stands start moving,â Pease said. âIt can get loud. Theyâre into it and they get their little yell people going and â¦ itâs a great atmosphere to play in. Thatâs something you canât get caught up in. Itâs a distraction youâve really got to block out as a player and a coach.â
For Sumlin, he canât wait to finally take the field with his team for the first time after all the months of planning and preparation.
âOne of the reasons why I think our practices have been so good recently is because weâre just so excited to get on the field and play,â Sumlin said. âThere have been a lot of great players here and a lot of them would love running out on Kyle Field on Saturday with all of the history-making things that are going on.â