- Alex Scarborough, ESPN Staff Writer
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No. 12 Florida went bare bones against Toledo in the season opener this past weekend, and not just because of its handful of players suspended for the game. The Gators knew they'd win easily, so why show their hand with an important trip to Miami the following week? If the Hurricanes were looking for something to game-plan for, it wasn't going to be found in the tape against Toledo. UF coach Will Muschamp didn't give anything away, going vanilla on offense and a flavor closer to cardboard on defense.
The 24-6 win over the Rockets lacked the panache many fans were hoping for, but that was by design. All in all, the game was a victory for the coaching staff: Jeff Driskel was decisive under center, completing 17 of 22 passes with no interceptions; the running game was effective in spite of Matt Jones' absence; quality depth emerged on both sides of the football; and the defense did its job against a high-paced Toledo offense, limiting the Rockets to 3.8 yards per play and no touchdowns.
Against the Hurricanes, the Gators will have to do more. Playing vanilla worked in Week 1, but it won't in Week 2. Miami might be unranked in the AP poll, but coach Al Golden has his team knocking at the door.
"Certainly they know it's an important game for the University of Florida," Muschamp said on Wednesday, speaking to the rivalry between the two in-state schools. "We talk about it all the time. Our players understand the importance of the game. ... Any time they play against guys they know and are familiar with, it's obviously very important."
Miami will test Florida's ability to stop the run on Saturday with its stout, veteran offensive line and a tailback many consider to be among the best sophomores at his position. Duke Johnson, a first-team All-ACC choice this preseason, was third in the conference in rushing last year with 947 yards on the ground. He'll have a slew of talented linemen blocking ahead of him with Brandon Linder, Malcolm Bunche and Seantrel Henderson clearing the way.
"You have to be disciplined in your gaps," Muschamp explained. "He is a guy that can take the ball anywhere. They do a nice job of showing the stretch look and him cutting the ball back and heading north and south.
"He is an extremely tough and competitive guy. We recruited him. ... He catches the ball well, he protects. He's a complete back."
Florida should feel confident on defense, though, with as talented and deep a group of athletes as any in the SEC. Getting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison back from suspension should help slow Johnson. And cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy will return from his one-game suspension to give the Gators an anchor in the secondary against Miami quarterback Stephen Morris, whose 160 passing yards against FAU in the season opener put him over the 5,000-yard mark for his career.
Rather, what the Gators do on offense could determine the outcome of this game. All offseason we've heard how offensive coordinator Brent Pease would open up the playbook and bring more production to Florida's attack. Against Miami, we'll get to see if those words can be put into action.
Florida has the skill and depth at running back to control the tempo with Jones healthy once again and Mack Brown helping shoulder the load. But Driskel, who is now into his second year starting in the system, must make smart decisions with the football. He fumbled the ball twice against Toledo and has a history of poor pocket awareness. He can a Miami defense that had five sacks in its opener to come at him ready to knock the ball loose on Saturday.
"We're going to miss a block here and there," Driskel told reporters in Gainesville this week, "but I have to take care of the ball."
In a rivalry games like this, turnovers are everything. Limiting takeaways and sustaining momentum will be vital for Florida to walk away with a win. If the Gators try to do too much and give the ball away, the results could be disastrous.
18hSam Khan Jr.
6dGreg Ostendorf and Alex Scarborough