First Look at the Florida Defense

The Texas Aggie football team is just three days away from opening up the SEC era at Texas A&M when they host the Florida Gators. Aggie Websider's David Sandhop takes a first look at the athletic Gator defense and what Texas A&M's offense must do to combat Will Muschamp's defensive unit.

Make no mistake, Florida's defense is good by any measure. The Gators always recruit the best athletes in the southeast and Will Muschamp is a proven defensive mind. So any way you slice it, the Texas A&M offense must execute at a high level and make big-time plays to score on what was a Top 10 defense in 2011.

With that said, the season opener against Bowling Green was a solid, yet below average performance for Muschamp's defensive unit allowing an 85-yard TD drive and four other Bowling Green drives over 40 yards. The Falcons managed 324 total yards primarily with short, quick passes (224 yds) mixed in with a few effective zone read runs (101 yds).

Bowling Green struggled trying to throw the ball downfield. The Florida secondary was simply too athletic and too good to allow a Falcon receiver enough separation to get open more than 10-15 yards down the field. Given Florida's speed in the secondary and Johnny Manziel's average arm strength, it will be a challenge for the redshirt freshman to do damage in the pocket on big plays through the air. For Manziel to be successful, he will need to be effective in the quick, timing passing game within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage.

What should help the 6-foot Manziel with these routes is that the Florida starting front seven is not that tall. The tallest player in the front seven is 6-foot-3 with a 6-foot nose guard and a 6-foot-2 defensive end in the starting rotation. Thus, Manziel should have good sight lines to quickly find his targets coming off the line of scrimmage. The Gators have a 6-foot-7 back-up defensive end and a 6-foot-5 back-up defensive tackle, so Manziel could have sight-line issues when Florida rotates in the second unit, but don't expect many problems with sight and batted balls with the first defensive squad which is a positive for Manziel and the offense.

As mentioned earlier, Bowling Green had marginal success running the ball with three runs over 12 yards and a couple of eight yard gainers from the zone read. Texas A&M will be 10 times better running out of the zone read given the better offensive line, more explosive running backs, and a legitimate running threat in Manziel. Christine Michael and Trey Williams are perfect for this system and I think Florida will be surprised at just how well Williams can execute the zone read. Even if Florida's big defensive line neutralizes A&M's offensive line, Williams can still do damage on the ground with his sheer ability to make defenders miss and bounce off tacklers.

That leads to the last and most important element of the match-up with Florida's defense and that's Manziel's playmaking outside the pocket. If A&M is going to hit big passing plays, it will come with Manziel extended plays outside the pocket allowing receivers to separate and get open downfield. That likely won't happen much in the first routes simply because the gator secondary is that good. It's the strength of their defense. But there's no way Florida can prepare for Manziel's improvisation and what he does with both his arm and legs outside the pocket.

Bottom line, the end result will depend on Manziel's decision-making and whether he is smart and doesn't try to do too much with his arm outside the pocket. I think he'll be most effective against Florida scrambling for yards and even running the ball out of the zone read. Florida is preparing for the wide-open passing game, which is why A&M has a chance to make some big plays on the ground because:

1) A&M's best offensive weapons are in the ground game

2) Florida is expecting pass

While many analysts are expecting a shoot-out through the air, I'm actually expecting a battle of run games that will be used to set-up play action and big shots downfield. But I think both secondaries will rise to the occasion, making this a relatively low scoring battle. I think 24 points wins this game for either team, and with the gators not clear what to expect from the redshirt freshman, I think A&M can get to 24 points...but only if Manziel plays within himself and doesn't try to do too much outside the pocket. This isn't Kerrville anymore.

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