Gators defense in the huddle

UF’s defense allowed Texas A&M to convert on 12 of its 15 third-downs in a 41-38 loss on Saturday.

Can reptiles get rope burn?

If the answer is yes, then hopefully UF has enough ointment for coach Dan Mullen, defensive coordinator Todd Grantham and the 80-man roster to lather on their hands upon touching down in Gainesville. In a  tug of war between Florida and Texas A&M on Saturday, the Aggies yanked the rope across the marked line with a game-winning field goal at the last second, forcing the Gators’ faces into the mud.

“This one, it hurt a little bit more, because I don’t think we expected to even be that close,” linebacker James Houston said about the loss. “We wanted to blow them out and send a statement.”

A&M’s 41-38 victory gave the Aggies a 3-2 all-time series lead against the Gators. It gave Florida some perspective on just how lacking its defense has been this season.

Aggressive defense and an absentee offense is a Florida tale as old as Tim Tebow’s alumni status. But, at this point in the 2020 campaign, it’s clear the opposite holds true.

The Aggies were 12 for 15 on third down, breathing life into the “third and Grantham” phenomenon. They had the ball for nine more minutes than Florida, which allowed them to run 18 more plays than the Gators. A&M racked up 205 rushing yards to Florida’s 90, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.

Mullen seemed convinced after the game that Texas A&M’s famous 12th-man gave it a distinct advantage. 

“There must have been 50,000 behind our bench going crazy,” Mullen said.

However, ESPN reported that 24,709 fans were at Kyle Field Saturday afternoon, about 9,000 more butts in seats this weekend than last at The Swamp. Even still, none of Mullen’s players shared his spectatorship sentiment.

“I mean, it's nothing that we couldn't manage,” Kyle Trask said when asked about the A&M crowd. 

“We’re used to 90,000 in the stands,” Nay’Quan Wright said, echoing his quarterback’s message. “This is nothing new to us. We’ve just got to back to the drawing board and clean some things up as a team.”

Regardless of his team’s psyche, Mullen said he “absolutely” wants to see a packed house at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium from now on. 

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Phase 3 reopening plan allows all stadiums in the state to return to 100% capacity. 

It’s worth noting Florida could not sell out last weekend with only 20% of the stadium’s seating capacity. Skip Powers, director of football communications for the University Athletic Association, told WCJB TV20 that Florida would continue to monitor the situation and consult with its healthcare professionals before making any stadium capacity changes earlier this week. Athletic director Scott Stricklin told the Orlando Sentinel that UF has no plans to lift current stadium restrictions. University President Kent Fuchs confirmed such via Twitter Sunday evening.

Mullen’s frustration seems misplaced, however. Did the fans at Kyle Field Saturday knock the ball out of Malik Davis’ hands in the fourth quarter? Did the fans create wide-open channels for the A&M run game to expose for 60 minutes? Did the fans allow a season-high 41 points?

Mullen’s players might want to save a little extra ointment for their coach. He seemed more burned by the loss than anyone else.

Contact Payton Titus at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @petitus25.

Payton Titus is a sports writer covering softball this season. She has also written for Swimming World Magazine, Inside the Gators and Chomp Talk.