Inside look: Q&A with GatorNation

September, 4, 2012
9/04/12
10:30
AM ET
Each week this season, GigEmNation will visit with a reporter that covers Texas A&M's upcoming opponent. This week, we visit Michael DiRocco of ESPN's GatorNation.

Sam Khan Jr.: After playing two quarterbacks -- Jeff Driskel and Jacoby Brissett -- against Bowling Green, coach Will Muschamp named Driskel the starter for Saturday. What's your assessment of the quarterback situation heading into the Texas A&M game?

Michael DiRocco: This will be Driskel’s game from start to finish. Muschamp has elected to go with the more mobile Driskel because that adds an additional element to the Gators’ offense. Driskel was solid against Bowling Green (10-for-16, 114 yards, 1 TD) but he missed several throws and hesitated on several others. That’s normal for all young quarterbacks, though, but getting past that is something that could have been accelerated a bit had he not had to split practice reps with Brissett throughout the spring and in August.

SK: With Texas A&M starting a redshirt freshman quarterback (Johnny Manziel) who will be making his first start, what kind of approach do you think we should expect to see from Florida's defense?

[+] EnlargeJeff Driskel
Kim Klement/US PresswireFlorida sophomore QB Jeff Driskel will be the starter against Texas A&M.
MD: The Gators will play almost exclusively nickel against the Aggies, which allows them to take advantage of their deep and talented secondary. The best way to rattle a young QB is to put pass rushers in his face and make him make quick decisions. UF would love to do that with just the front four, but the Gators were inconsistent with that last week against Bowling Green. If they can’t, defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has got several blitz packages designed to get pressure up the middle. Safety Matt Elam is a pretty good blitzer who may figure prominently in those plans.

SK: After piling up 220 rushing yards on the ground against Bowling Green, do you see the Gators continuing to emphasize the run, and particularly Mike Gillislee, when they come to College Station?

MD: Absolutely. Muschamp wants to be a pro-style, power-run team – Alabama is the blueprint – and that means a heavy dose of Gillislee. He’s the Gators’ best back and he’s coming off a 24-carry, 148-yard performance. The question will be whether the Gators will continue to be stubborn and try to run the ball against stacked fronts or if they’ll open the offense up a bit. Muschamp says he’ll take the handcuffs off offensive coordinator Brent Pease this week, but with a young QB making his first career start, the safest play would be to go conservative.

SK: It appeared that the Gators struggled in short-yardage running situations on Saturday. Is that an aberration or do you suspect that could be a lingering issue for Florida?

MD: That’s could be a lingering issue because it’s on the offensive line. The unit didn’t get much movement at all in those short-yardage plays. It’s a group that was supposed to be tougher and stronger this season after working with new strength and conditioning coordinator Jeff Dillman. It didn’t look that way against Bowling Green in those short-yardage situations. Maybe that was an aberration, but if the line had trouble with the Falcons, what will it do against SEC defensive lines?

SK: The Gators' defense is clearly fast and athletic. How do you see the unit responding to an accelerated offensive tempo, which Texas A&M is expected to employ?

MD: It’s a concern, but it’s a veteran defense in its second season in Quinn’s system. That should mean better communication from the sideline and on the field between players. The Gators have studied tape of Kevin Sumlin’s Houston teams and should be prepared for the up-tempo style. Plus, it’s Texas A&M’s first game and there’s bound to be glitches, especially with a freshman QB. That might keep the Aggies from being as crisp with the up-tempo pace as they will be later in the season.

SK: Though his tenure hasn't been long, give me your assessment of the job Will Muschamp has done so far.

MD: He’s done a very good job recruiting, although his first class – which he assembled in about two months – hasn’t produced much in the way of significant contributors. This year’s group of freshmen shows promise, specifically defensive ends Jonathan Bullard and Dante Fowler, offensive linemen Jessamen Dunker and D.J. Humphries, tight end Kent Taylor and receiver Latroy Pittman. His game-day coaching ability remains a question mark.

Sam Khan | email

Texas A&M/SEC reporter

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