GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The Florida Gators walked off their home field Saturday as the victim of a second straight loss, this time a 19-17 defeat to the Texas A&M Aggies.
The offense failed to stay on the field late, putting the onus on the defense to hold the Aggies at bay. The defense did what would normally be enough, holding Texas A&M to three field goals despite being on the field for 9 minutes in that final quarter.
But the offense again failed to hold up its side of the bargain.
It’s biggest struggle: Third down.
Florida converted just 4 of its 15 third-down attempts for another dismal showing when the team needs to move the chains.
“We just need to go ahead and complete them,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said after the game.
Easier said than done for this Florida team, which is 3-3 (3-2 in SEC play) heading into a bye week.
Florida’s opening drive showed promise despite pressure from the Aggies early. Feleipe Franks converted back-to-back third downs with a 12-yard completion to Brandon Powell and then a 20-yard flick to Malik Davis under pressure to bring the Gators deep into Texas A&M territory. They settled for a field goal after Franks’ pass to Powell on a third-and-13 gained 8 yards.
After those three plays, though, Franks completed 5 of his 6 third-down passes for 15 total yards and moved the chains once through the air. The fourth conversion came on Franks’ 79-yard run in the third quarter that set up a Dre Massey 6-yard rushing touchdown.
“The plan’s good,” McElwain said. “The execution piece needs to get better.”
On the season, the Gators have converted 33.3 percent of their third-down attempts, which ranks last in the SEC and 103rd nationally. If the season ended today, it would be the lowest third-down conversion mark for a Florida team since 2011, Will Muschamp’s first year at the helm of the program.
The numbers when separating wins and losses are even more shocking.
In the Gators’ losses this year — the season opener to Michigan and home defeats to LSU and Texas A&M — Florida went a combined 8 for 37 on third down, a 21.6 percent conversion rate. In the wins over Tennessee, Kentucky and Vanderbilt, Florida went 19 for 44 (43.2 percent).
|Opponent||3rd downs converted||3rd down attempts||Percent|
This isn’t a new issue, though. The Gators have converted more than 40 percent of their third-down attempts during a season once since 2010.
|Year||3rd down efficiency||SEC/National rank|
“You’ve got to stay on the field,” McElwain said.
And yet Florida managed to go three-and-out seven times against the Aggies and fell behind on early downs. Of the 15 third-down attempts, Florida had at least 9 yards to go seven times. On average, the Gators were 7.4 yards away from the first-down marker.
“Texas A&M, they wanted to get to you behind the sticks on first down,” offensive lineman Martez Ivey said. “You know they have a pressure team. They want to blitz you on third down. That’s where they create problems.”
The road isn’t going to get easier. Two of Florida’s final five opponents — Georgia and Florida State — rank in the top 35 nationally in third-down defense.
“I understand the game plan. We knew it,” Ivey said. “When it comes down to it, we’ve got to finish and we’ve got to execute. That’s all it is.”
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