Florida Gators: Rockets-Gators-083113



GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Throughout the offseason, Florida knew its program depth would be tested.

The Gators lost seven starters from last year's defense and knew Week 1 would mean a match up against a veteran Toledo offense that averaged more than 445 yards of total offense in 2012.

In fall camp Florida lost three starters on offense to injury. And Saturday saw five players suspended, including two starters on defense.

Throw in a head coach who believes in playing his best freshmen, and there were so many new faces on Florida Field it's a wonder there were any game programs left unsold.

"We're taught by our coaches, especially [head coach Will] Muschamp, when there's a man down to man up," linebacker Neiron Ball said. "If there's a man down, the next player's got to be ready."

Muschamp, who expects this year's defense to be just as good as last year despite all the new starters, is standing by the motto. He expects injuries and he doles out discipline knowing he can weather a suspension to an important player.

"We're not going to make excuses at Florida, regardless of injury, sickness, whatever the situation may be," he said. "We're just going to move forward. That's why you have a deep roster and that's why you recruit guys who don't ask you about the depth chart 400 times. You recruit guys who want to come in here and compete.

"A lot of young guys, they were a little big-eyed walking out of the locker room. But [it was good] for them to get that experience. I think we played 15 freshmen, eight or nine true and then seven redshirt guys. So that's good to get those young guys playing. The way it is in college football now, you've got a bunch of guys coming out early, you might as well play the [young] guys."

Leading the way, however, was running back Mack Brown. Not a new face, but maybe an anonymous one. Brown has toiled in orange and blue for more than three years, amassing just 40 career carries, despite once having four-star recruiting status. Still, Muschamp said he wasn't at all surprised at Brown's performance.

The redshirt junior was Florida's workhorse on Saturday, rushing for 25 times for 112 mostly tough yards and two first-half touchdowns. He drew the starting assignment because sophomore Matt Jones is still recovering from a viral infection.

Brown's reaction to possibly losing the starting nod next week against the in-state rival Miami Hurricanes?

"You know what, we need [Jones] back, man," Brown said. "We've got about four to five backs. You need a lot of backs in a season. Can't wait to see Matt Jones back. Really can't wait to see him."

Sharing the starting backfield duties with Brown on Saturday was fullback Gideon Ajagbe, another forgotten redshirt junior who credits an offseason switch from linebacker with providing his first chance at playing time. He cashed in with his first career touchdown, a wide-open 4-yard pass from Jeff Driskel.

To hear Ajagbe tell it, he was simply the next man up, as Florida limited the playing time of incumbent starter Hunter Joyer, who is dealing with a pulled hamstring.

"It was fun. It was cool," Ajagbe said of the pregame locker-room scene where so many new players were slated for more prominent roles. "I know everybody was jacked up for it."

When the players line up to come out of the tunnel during Florida's pregame introductions, the starters get to lead the way. Of all the new faces at the front of the line, Brown might have been the most emotional.

"You lose a lot of confidence over the years, not playing," he said. "The last time I started was my senior year of high school.

"I had tears in my eyes. I felt like I was useless the last couple of years."

Not Saturday. With a man down, Jones and other Gators manned up.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- After suspending five players, including two starters on defense, the No. 10 Gators were forced to use their depth against Toledo on Saturday. Several backup players came through, as Florida showed off an improved offense to go with its usually stingy defense in a 24-6 victory.

Florida has won 24 consecutive season openers, the second-longest streak in the nation.

It was over when: Florida freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III, ESPN's No. 3-ranked prospect overall in the Class of 2013, stepped in front of a third-quarter Terrance Owens pass and returned the interception to the Toledo 23-yard line, which set up the Gators' offense for its third touchdown drive and a 24-6 lead.

Game ball goes to: Florida junior running back Mack Brown might be the understudy to sophomore Matt Jones, who was out with a viral infection, but he carried the Gators' offense all day. Brown paced Florida in the first half with 97 yards on 17 carries with two touchdowns. He finished with 112 yards on 25 carries.

Stat of the game: It might be unfair to highlight time of possession when Toledo runs an uptempo offense that likes to get up and down the field quickly, but with a 39:48-to-20:12 advantage on the time clock, Florida was able to control the game from start to finish. The Gators took advantage of a big mismatch coming into this game -- Florida's grinding running attack against Toledo's suspect young defense up the middle.

What the Gators learned: Gainesville, you have an offense. The passing game might still lack a downfield threat, and the statistics don't show dominance, but there were far fewer miscues, far more open receivers and overall more creativity than at any point in the past few seasons. The Gators will still be an offense that is defined by downhill running, but with its variety of plays and role players, Florida can move the ball in more ways than before.

What the Rockets learned: Playing an SEC opponent for the first time in program history, Toledo got a taste of an SEC atmosphere with a vocal fan base on a very hot Southern day. The Rockets' uptempo offense put pressure on Florida and was at times effective in the heat, but Toledo's inability to turn scoring drives into touchdowns cost it any chance of staying in the game.

Video: Florida vs. Toledo pregame

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
12:07
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Jeff Barlis previews the matchup between No. 10 Florida and Toledo.

Greetings from the Swamp

August, 31, 2013
8/31/13
11:38
AM ET
GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Season openers are usually met with tremendous enthusiasm. It's the day fans have waited months for.

As the No. 10 Gators are set to host Toledo, however, some of that excitement has been tempered by a slew of suspensions that will cost UF two defensive starters and a handful of depth players.

The Gators lost seven starters from a 2012 defense that ranked among the top five in the nation in total defense. Add the suspensions of starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison (after two offseason arrests) and starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy (for an undisclosed violation of team rules), and Florida will have nine new starters on defense against an up-tempo, senior-laden Rockets offense.

The other suspensions are to defensive tackle Darious Cummings, wide receiver Latroy Pittman, and offensive lineman Quinteze Williams.

Another damper? The weather.

One of the iconic signs painted on the corners of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium says "This is The Swamp". Today that could be taken literally. It's very hot, very humid, and the forecast calls for scattered showers.

While the weather could dash Florida's hopes of showing off an improved passing game, a bigger issue is the running game, where in the Gators will be without starting tailback Matt Jones (viral infection) and two starting offensive linemen -- Jon Halapio (out for the first two games with a partially torn pectoral muscle) and Chaz Green (out for the season with a torn labrum).

Depth will key if the Gators are to add to their streak of 23 straight wins in season openers, the second-longest run in the country.

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