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September 8, 2012

Holt: Gators rebound to earn coach signature win



COLLEGE STATION, Texas - Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley heard the final whistle and screamed. He slid past extended handshakes and gave hugs. He celebrated like the Gators had just won a January bowl game in New Orleans or Glendale or Miami.

For the first time in nearly a year - last Sept. 24 against Kentucky to be exact - Florida's football team had won a road game. For the first time in head coach Will Muschamp's tenure, the Gators won a game they trailed at halftime.

Finally, it seemed, Muschamp had a signature win in a 20-17 decision against Texas A&M in the Aggies' SEC debut.

"All of our hospitality in the SEC, we're trying to make everybody happy," Muschamp said. "Everybody wanted the glory story here with A&M, but they didn't get it. I'm very proud of our team."

Kyle Field was rocking Saturday afternoon. The crowd of 87,114 was the ninth-largest in Texas A&M history, and the stadium was loud from the first time the stands swayed for the "Aggie War Hymn" right before kickoff.

It all started like so many UF games have during the brief Muschamp era. An inopportune penalty extended a drive and the Gators couldn't get an opponent off the field.

Yes, Florida briefly got out ahead 7-3 before its defense was manhandled by the Aggies in the second quarter.

Behind redshirt freshman quarterback Johnny Manziel, the Aggies ran 23 plays in the second quarter, scored two touchdowns and outgained the Gators by 168 yards in the first half.

Despite the storm swirling around him, Muschamp told ESPN sideline reporter Heather Cox his team was in good shape heading into the half. Many in the Gator Nation smirked, having heard that line in the past.

Waiting in the locker room was a quiet team.

"Before he got in, we said, 'There's nothing to be said,'" senior linebacker Jon Bostic said. "We know we can play a lot better than we played in the first half."

Florida has been criticized for not making proper in-game adjustments during Muschamp's tenure, so the head coach came in knowing exactly what he needed to do. The Gators had no real film to study Manziel, and knowing how aggressive Florida's defensive linemen are, the Aggies saw a chance to open up creases for the athletic Manziel to run.

He led the game with 41 yards rushing at halftime.

"I told them, 'I'm firing you if you run up the field again. Sit on the line of scrimmage, squeeze blocks inside and quit running up the field. That's what they want you to do,'" Muschamp said. "We didn't have any run lanes in the second half. We just need to be more disciplined in what we do, how we play. I love the aggressiveness, but sometimes it does hurt us."

Everything changed: The Aggies didn't score again, Manziel finished the game with 60 yards rushing and Texas A&M ran 22 plays in the entire second half.

At halftime, Muschamp was on the brink of another frustrating and possibly crippling weekend at Florida.

By the time the Gators ran to the contingent of Florida fans in attendance and sang a victorious fight song, he had regained some trust and reminded people of the coaching abilities that got him hired by Foley.

The crowd chanted "SEC," a reminder that the next test is only one week away. Tennessee's offense is waiting.


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