Jim McElwain

UF coach Jim McElwain motions to the Gators defense during Florida's 28-27 win against Kentucky on Saturday at Kroger Field.

Alan Alvarez / Alligator Staff

Florida emerged from the tunnel at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium last Saturday favored against the visiting LSU Tigers. It didn’t matter. Despite oddsmakers initially favoring the Gators by 3.5 points, Florida lost by one, leaving LSU players dancing on the field. It was coach Jim McElwain’s second-ever loss in The Swamp in 15 tries.

Florida is favored in Saturday’s game against Texas A&M by three points. Despite coming off a loss, the fact that it’s a home game for the Gators probably helped their odds, as did the fact that the Aggies lost last week as well. But looking at the stats, it’s clear who has the real advantage when the Aggies (4-2, 2-1 SEC) and Gators (3-2, 3-1 SEC) kick off Saturday night in Gainesville at 7.

Starting with the obvious ones — offense and defense — TAMU leads in points per game (fourth in SEC) and yards per game (fifth in SEC). The Gators rank 12th and 11th in the conference in those categories. UF is better on defense, ranking seventh to Texas A&M’s 10th, but the offensive discrepancy is larger. The Aggies average 10 more points than the Gators usually give up.

“They’re really good,” McElwain said. “I mean, they’re really good. They’ve been recruiting at a high level for a long time.”

One of the big former recruits making an impact for the Aggies on offense is junior Christian Kirk, who leads his team in receiving yards (316) and touchdowns (five). He came in as a five-star player. Then there’s quarterback Kellen Mond, a true freshman four-star player who has thrown for over 1,000 yards in six games to go with seven touchdown tosses and three picks.

That combination, along with the rest of the Aggie offense, managed to put up 19 points last week in a loss to the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide. That might not seem impressive, but Alabama’s defense ranks fifth in yards and fourth in scoring nationally. Those 19 points were the second-most scored on the Crimson Tide this season.

“I saw a team in A&M that was very hungry and well prepared and their athletes played,” McElwain said after studying that game. “You could see the quality of guys that they’ve been recruiting and the energy they’ve played with… They’ve got speed. They’ve got a bunch of talent and played really well.”

Florida, meanwhile, did not play really well and especially not with speed against LSU. The tempo was a consistent question for McElwain and players all week, and they both emphasized that they’re working on it.

“That’s gonna be the point of emphasis,” wideout Josh Hammond said. “You know, just getting lined up and moving fast. It helps our defense a lot, too, because A&M’s definitely that up-tempo offense.”

That TAMU tempo shows up in first down statistics, where the Aggies again hold an advantage over Florida. They produce 22 first down per game (second in the SEC) to Florida’s 16 (11th).

Then there’s sacks. Texas A&M leads the conference with 23. They’re hoping to continue creating pressure on Florida’s redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks and against a Florida offensive line allowing three sacks per game.

Florida is trying to address the sack problem by stressing communication.

“The sacks feel like they were given up on poor assignments, guys coming free, things like that,” guard Fred Johnson said. “So coach Davis really took us and said we need to work on the fundamentals.”

Finally, there’s penalties, where TAMU ranks second in the SEC while the Gators are near the bottom at 11th. But combining all those numbers mean nothing to Florida’s player and coaches, who know this game determines the team’s ability to stay in control of the SEC East. A loss essentially eliminates it from contention.

“Everything is still out in front of us,” McElwain said. “How we approach that and how our guys choose to attack that is really going to be interesting.”

You can follow Ethan Bauer on Twitter @ebaueri, and contact him at [email protected].