GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) Florida is trying to avoid going from unranked to irrelevant.
Coming off a 17-16 home loss to LSU, the Gators host Texas A&M on Saturday night in need of a victory to stay in the Southeastern Conference’s Eastern Division hunt. A loss to the Aggies likely would leave Florida (3-2, 3-1 SEC) two games back in the division and needing help down the stretch.
Texas A&M (4-2, 2-1) lost control of its league destiny with a 27-19 home loss to No. 1 Alabama last week.
So either the Aggies or the Gators will bounce back in The Swamp. The other will have a two-game losing streak and facing tough questions and potentially difficult decisions the rest of the way.
”We’re excited just to try to get that feeling out of our mouth this week,” Florida linebacker David Reese said.
The Gators felt like they were better than LSU, but missed a game-tying extra point late in the third quarter and failed to mount a significant drive in the fourth. Coach Jim McElwain responded by picking up the pace in practice, hoping increased tempo will lead to more opportunities and more points.
Florida might need them against the Aggies, who rank fourth in the SEC in scoring and lead the league in total plays.
”We know it’s about us, and if we do what we do, we can play with anyone in the country,” Texas A&M linebacker Cullen Gillaspia said.
The Aggies surely gained confidence while playing the Tide closer than anyone else this season. They held Alabama to 355 yards and 16 first downs, and might have had a chance to pull off an upset if not for three turnovers.
”That game is over with it, and it’s onto Florida,” Aggies linebacker Tyrel Dodson said.
Here are some other things to know about the fourth meeting between Texas A&M and Florida:
AWFUL OR AWESOME? Florida will wear alternate uniforms for the first time. They are ”swamp green,” designed to look like alligator skin and have drawn mixed reviews. Coach Jim McElwain even joked that his ”hate mail” tripled since the uniforms were unveiled this week.
LONG TIME: Texas A&M is making its first trip to Florida Field since 1962, a 42-6 loss that came two years before coach Kevin Sumlin was even born. Sumlin noted that the Gators have the best home-winning percentage in the country since 1990.
”Every fan base is really passionate about their football team,” Sumlin said. ”There’s not a lot of places you can go in this league where it’s not a hostile environment on the road. It will be good for us.”
MISSING MEN: The Gators could be without 14 scholarship players for the game, including nine suspended indefinitely while the state attorney’s office investigates potential felony credit card fraud charges. Receiver Tyrie Cleveland (high-ankle sprain), receiver Kadarius Toney (separated shoulder) and guard Brett Heggie (concussion) are key guys who might not be cleared to play.
KEY MATCHUP: Aggies receiver Christian Kirk could be the best offensive player in The Swamp this season. The 5-foot-11 junior has 27 receptions for 316 yards and five touchdowns in six games and could be a handful for a secondary that will be without safety Nick Washington (shoulder). Kirk also ranks third in the conference in kickoffs, averaging 26.9 yards a return and taking one back for a touchdown. Florida, however, is the only team in the nation that hasn’t allowed a kickoff return.
TURNOVERS WANTED: After returning three interceptions for touchdowns in the first two games, Florida’s rebuilt defense doesn’t have a turnover in its last three games. The Gators also are one of four teams in the nation without a fumble recovery.
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