The Texas A&M football team will take on the No. 24-ranked Florida Gators at Kyle Field on Saturday. If the Aggies want to beat the Gators, they are going to have to come out on the winning end of multiple individual battles the players will face on Saturday afternoon.
It will be the opening game of the season for the Aggies and their first Southeastern Conference game. ESPN's College Gameday is going to broadcast live from College Station before and after the game.
It is one of the biggest games in the history of the Texas A&M program. A win would give the Aggies a jump-start on their competition in the SEC and silence a lot of doubters. A loss would place the Aggies behind schedule in qualifying for a bowl game and make it much harder to have a successful inaugural season in the SEC.
This is a look at the matchups that will define the A&M versus Florida game.
This game will match Kevin Sumlin's offense against Will Muschamp's defense. It is Sumlin's first year at A&M as the head coach, and it will be the Aggies' first game in his hurry-up spread passing scheme.
Muschamp has begun his second season at Florida. Many of the Aggies are familiar with Muschamp's defense as they faced it for two years when he was the defensive coordinator at Texas.
Florida runs an even front defense but will be multiple in formation, much like A&M's defense under Mark Snyder. Muschamp's defenses are defined by their strong defensive line play. He emphasizes his linemen getting into the backfield and disrupting the offense.
The Aggies took advantage of this in 2010 when they last faced a Muschamp defense. Cyrus Gray patiently waited for his blocks to develop and rushed for over 200 yards in a win in Austin. The Aggies do not have a running back with Gray's patient running style on campus right now.
Sumlin and offensive coordinator Kliff Kingsbury will attempt to spread the Gator defense out with wide line splits and multiple receiver sets. The offense will try to spread the field to create advantageous matchups with the Aggies' skill position players lined up against slower defenders.
The Gators have a lot of speed on defense so it will be a tough task to find mismatches for the Aggies' skill players. Expect the Gators to spend most of the game in their nickel defense with five defensive backs on the field.
Muschamp has not faced a spread offense like the Aggies run since he has been at Florida. It will be interesting to see how he adjusts to having his defense spread all over the field.
Advantage: Texas A&M
The Aggies return five starters on one of the top offensive lines in the country. The Aggie offense averaged 490 total yards per game in 2011 and rushed for an average of 5.1 yards per carry.
They will line up against a defensive line that only allowed 3.7 yards per rush to Bowling Green on Saturday. In 2011 the Gators had one of the best defenses in the country, only allowing 299.5 yards per game.
Sharrif Floyd leads the Gators defensive line. He had 46 tackles, including 6.5 for loss and 1.5 sacks from his defensive tackle position in 2011. Junior Omar Hunter teams with Floyd on the interior. Dominique Easley and Lerentee McCray start at defensive end for the Gators.
The Aggies will counter with an offensive line led by preseason All-American Luke Joeckel at left tackle. Jarvis Harrison and Cedric Ogbuehi will start at the guard spots with Patrick Lewis manning the center position. Jake Matthews is a third-year starter at right tackle.
If the Aggies average 3.7 yards per rush like Bowling Green did, then they will be able to control the line of scrimmage and win the game. A&M has a much better offensive line than Bowling Green does.
Advantage: Texas A&M
Whoever wins the battle between the Florida offensive line and the Texas A&M defensive line will likely determine who wins the game. The Florida OL was much maligned in 2011 but returns four starters in 2012.
The Florida O-line was solid in its opener, opening enough holes for the Gators to rush for 220 yards on 5.2 yards per carry against Bowling Green. The Gators did struggle to convert multiple times when they tried to run the ball on third down.
The Aggies are switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3. Damontre Moore has moved from outside linebacker to the weak side defensive end position. The Aggies lost two starters to graduation but got defensive tackle Jonathan Mathis back after an injury cut his 2011 season short.
Spencer Nealy has moved inside to defensive tackle from the strong-side defensive end spot where he spent the spring. Mathis is backing up Kirby Ennis at nose guard. Gavin Stansbury will start at strong-side defensive end opposite from Moore.
The Aggies have very poor depth on the defensive line and will rely on true freshmen to play major minutes. One advantage that the Aggies do have is that defenses can play over their heads due to emotion and a fired up Kyle Field crowd should help the Aggies defense on Saturday.
Aggies running back Christine Michael is coming off an ACL injury, but when he is healthy he is one of the top backs in the nation. True freshman Trey Williams has been giving the Aggie defense fits during the fall camp. He should see plenty of action against Florida.
Expect to see Ben Malena receive a few carries against Florida. He should be particularly active in the passing game. Malena has great hands and with a quarterback starting his first career game, look for the coaches to utilize short passes to the running back early in the game.
Jonathan Bostic is the starting middle linebacker for the Gators and led them in tackles against Bowling Green with eight. Darrin Kitchens is the SAM linebacker and Jelani Jenkins the WILL linebacker in Florida's 4-3 scheme.
Expect to see the Gators run a lot of nickel defense against the Aggies offense on Saturday, with defensive back Matt Elam taking the place of a linebacker.
The Aggies have a great stable of running backs and should be able to run the ball effectively, especially if the Gators got to a nickel defense.
Advantage: Texas A&M
Brent Pease's first game as the offensive coordinator at Florida featured an up-and-down performance from the offense. The running game was solid, but the Gators were mediocre when trying to move the ball through the air.
Florida did not run any misdirection plays against Bowling Green. Aggies fans should expect to see at least a few misdirection or trick plays on Saturday.
No one knows what to expect from Snyder because he has not coached a game yet. Judging from the Bowling Green game, look for Snyder to focus on stopping Mike Gillislee and the Gators running game.
If the Aggies can make Florida one-dimensional by shutting down the run, then they will have a great chance at winning the game.
Advantage: Texas A&M
Florida has some dynamic wide receivers in Trey Burton and Andre Dubose. Both are very dangerous with the ball in their hands. The issue that the Gators have is that right now they do not have a quarterback to consistently get them the ball.
The Aggies secondary struggled in 2011. Steven Campbell is finally healthy and should be very helpful against the Gators running game.
Deshazor Everett and De'Vante Harris are new starters at the cornerback position. Harris is a true freshman. The first snap he plays on the field against the Gators will be the first of his collegiate career. Do not be surprised if the Gators test Harris deep.
Steven Terrell will start at free safety for the Ags. He is solid in coverage but has struggled against the run. It will be interesting to see how he responds to a much more physical league in the SEC.
Manziel is making the first start of his college career against the Gators. It is Quinn's charge to slow down Manziel and the Aggies' spread offense.
Manziel ran a version of the spread in high school. He was very successful, passing for 45 touchdowns and rushing for 30 touchdowns as a senior.
There is a big difference between high school football and the SEC. No one knows how Manziel will react to 90,000 fans in the crowd and a national television audience watching his every move.
Look for Quinn to dial up a lot of blitzes and stunts in an attempt to confuse Manziel. The redshirt freshman quarterback does not need to be great; he just needs to execute the offense. If Manziel can limit turnovers, he should be able to rely on his offensive line and the running game to score enough points to win the game.