Florida Football Opening Week Preview: vs. Toledo

By Zach Virnig
Florida Gators Football, Toledo Rockets Football
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

When the Toledo Rockets collide with the No. 10 Florida Gators next weekend, they will be in for a mountain of a test. It will take a 100 percent on that exam, plus bonus points to reach the school’s biggest upset ever against a historically great program. Florida, undefeated at home last season, played three non-BCS qualifiers closer than the experts thought. For instance, week one against Bowling Green, the Gators took a field goal lead into the final quarter, finally prevailing from the Swamp, 27-14. Louisiana-Lafayette and quarterback Terrance Broadway had Will Muschamp and the boys on the ropes, up a score with little over a quarter remaining only to lose by a Jelani Jenkins blocked punt touchdown run at the tail end of the action, 27-20. Don’t forget about that 23-0 sleeper over Jacksonville State.

Toledo is currently in the best stretch of football in their program’s history after traveling to three straight bowl appearances. Just like Florida has had near giveaways, Toledo has had near misses. In 2012, Toledo played one of their better performances to date and came up on the short end of a program building win over Arizona, 24-17. Toledo, two years before, ousted Purdue 31-20.

Nothing is going to rattle Toledo, even playing in one of the nation’s toughest venues and a team from the nation’s toughest conference, the SEC for the first time ever in program history. The Rockets were offensive juggernauts in the MAC a season ago.  They return All-MAC performers at five positions this year.  One athlete to keep your eye on is their crafty southpaw quarterback Terrance Owens. Owens is a slithering, dual threat for Matt Campbell‘s passing oriented offense, but he will be a question mark against an imposing defense. Florida loses seven starters on defense but returns a very stout back seven with one of the better secondaries in division one.

Paying respect to Florida’s secondary, they were 16th best in the nation in passing yards allowed per game, giving up 192 yards per game last season. Toledo did average 252 yards per game, 48th in the nation and third in the MAC, so Toledo will do some damage in the passing lanes but not to their normal extent.  Which means that wideouts Bernard Reedy and sophomore Alonzo Russell aren’t going to rise up against probably the best set of corners in the country.

Owens has a knack of being interception prone – five picks in his last four games does that justice. What’s going to happen when he’s meets a defense that ranked 5th overall in scoring defense with 20 total picks? Every road quarterback on Florida’s schedule threw under 250 yards for the game last season. Florida isn’t going to let the nation’s eighth leading rusher from last season, David Fluellen, get started either. Florida will bottle him up and take him out of the game early.

Florida’s passing game spun in neutral all season long in 2012 as the Gators finished 114th nationally in that category. Brent Pease loses weapons like Mike Gillislee and Jordan Reed from last season as well as senior speedster Andre Debose, who is out all year with a knee injury. Just this week Florida lost their starting running back Matt Jones to a viral infection that will keep him out of the game. Backup to Jones, Mack Brown, will get the important carries for the Gators after not playing last season’s final four games and only having 52 touches in his career.

Florida senior quarterback Jeff Driskel shouldn’t be his normal self in one week, even with those obvious losses. Driskel can still use receivers Quinton Dunbar and Trey Burton as both had a catch in every single game in 2012. Toledo gave up plenty on defense last year, ranking 11th in conference in total defense, plus 166 tackles are gone from team leading tackler, Dan Molls. Florida’s offense will become a major surprise in the SEC this season.

Florida is a commanding 9-1 versus the MAC all-time. Toledo will have a fighter’s chance on the road against another SEC East opponent, Missouri the following week. Toledo’s glass slipper won’t fit against a team that last year was one Notre Dame loss away from going to Miami. Florida wins 34-10.

Zach Virnig is a SEC Writer for RantSports.com. Follow him on Twitter @ZacharyVirnig, “Like” on Facebook or add him to your network on Google.

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