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Sunday, December 03, 2023

Florida drops first game of the season to Texas A&M in defensive nightmare

<p>The Gators allowed 41 points in their first loss of the season.</p>

The Gators allowed 41 points in their first loss of the season.

When Malik Davis fumbled the football near midfield with time dwindling, it didn’t matter how stunted the crowd was at Kyle Field: It erupted all the same.

The Aggies capitalized on the turnover to beat the Gators 41-38 in College Station, Texas, on Saturday. The loss was UF’s first of the season, and it was A&M’s second straight win over Dan Mullen’s Gators.

“You’re going to play these games,” Mullen said. “This year is going to be an interesting year, you’re playing 10 SEC games… Really good team, give (A&M) a lot of credit, really good football team.”

The first half was a boxing match, with both teams dishing haymakers.

In the first quarter, Florida took its time on a 17-play drive that ended in a Kyle-to-Kyle connection for the score. With the pass, Kyle Trask passed famed UF quarterback Steve Spurrier on Florida’s all-time passing touchdown list, the throw to Pitts his 37th TD as a Gator.

The Aggies, however, were much quicker. Quarterback Kellen Mond led a seven-play drive right after to tie the game. And once the scoring opened up, there was no stopping it.

Trask threw a touchdown to Toney on the next drive, and Mond threw one to A&M receiver Caleb Chapman on the drive after that. And it kept going and going and going.

Every drive in the first half resulted in a score, but thankfully for the Gators, A&M’s last drive of the half was not a touchdown. The Aggies got to the two-yard line after a pass interference call on Shawn Davis, but they resolved to kick, bringing the score to 21-17 at the half. A&M’s field goal was the first time special teams had appeared on the field during the entire first half.

The streak broke during the second half, however.

A&M was held at midfield on the opening drive, but Florida wasn’t about to start a new trend. After an INT was called back by a hands to the face, Trask found Toney on a 37-yard touchdown pass to increase UF’s lead to 28-17.

A&M fired back, though, as running back Isiah Spiller ran for 58 yards on the ensuing drive and capped off the dominant stretch with a rushing touchdown to bring the score to 28-24. Florida was stopped for the first time all game after an A&M sack on the ensuing drive, and the Aggies got the ball back at their own 30.

That was when the trouble started.

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A&M drove down the field, and when UF got a stop on third down in the red zone, Spiller both converted the fourth down and thundered into the endzone on the same play. The score put A&M up 31-28 in with 12:35 remaining in the fourth.

UF was stopped near the red zone on the next drive, but when the Gators went to take the 43-yard kick, a delay of game penalty and a false start right after made it a 53-yarder. McPherson hit it anyway, and Florida tied the game 31-31.

The next drive, fortune swung in UF’s favor.

After a complete pass that would have been yet another third down conversion for the Aggies, Jeremiah Moon forced a crucial fumble that Marco Wilson scooped up. The Gators capitalized, and with a Trask throw to Dameon Pierce on the one-yard line, UF retook the lead 38-31.

Even still, A&M wouldn’t falter. Mond launched a 51-yard rocket to receiver Caleb Chapman on the following drive, and the Aggies brought the game to a tie once again at 38-38.

And just as fortune tips one way, it often tips the other soon after.

Malik Davis fumbled on the next drive, handing the ball back to the Aggies. That would be the dagger, as they started from midfield, and after a crucial third down conversion near the red zone, A&M made a 26-yard field goal to win the game.

“Think he played very well,” Trask said about Davis’ play. “He was able to miss in space, and obviously he had that fumble, but at the end of the day we shouldn’t have been in that situation. The game should have been put away.”

The game will likely be remembered for UF’s particularly nightmare-ish defensive performance: A&M converted 12 of its 15 third downs on the day, and Florida gave up 543 total yards during the game.

"We know we have a very powerful offense,” linebacker Justin Houston IV said. “But we ended up with the L today. Defense has to execute a little bit more if we want to come out of those battles with a W."

Contact River Wells at and follow him on Twitter @riverhwells.

The Gators allowed 41 points in their first loss of the season.

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