Give the Florida Gators their 24th-consecutive season-opening victory with a Saturday defeat of Toledo 24-6, after an impressive all-around effort from the No. 10 team against a 25-win team the last three seasons.
Last year’s fifth-ranked Florida defense suffocated the passing lanes and disrupted Rockets quarterback Terrance Owens more times than you can count on your own two hands. Florida defensive tackle Dominique Easley played like a true senior and corner Vernon Hargreaves III, the best recruit in Florida’s past signing class, put on his big boy pants with an interception that set up a touchdown for the Gators’ offense.
The No. 1 question on the hearts of many Florida fans was, what state is Brent Pease and the offense in after a minimal improvement from the offense last season? It’s safe to say that Florida is every bit a better all-around offense than Will Muschamp’s previous two seasons.
Never has quarterback Jeff Driskel been so efficient and accurate with touch passes to his weapons. From the naked eye, Driskel’s footwork has evolved from his true sophomore season in 2012, throwing most of his passes off his back foot. Driskel completed all but five of his passes, going 17-for-22 for 153 yards and a score with a nickel under one minute left in the game. Driskel’s first seven passing attempts went for completions, with an astonishing 10 passes on 11 attempts in the first quarter. The only scratch in his overall performance was fumbling once, while being sacked twice.
Pease didn’t need to give Miami anything to sit on, so he oriented his offense for Driskel to complete high-percentage passes by getting it out early to receivers like Trey Burton. The easiest pass and catch from Driskel went into the direction of Gideon Ajagbe for a four-yard touchdown reception, the final nail in the coffin in the game.
Just like every Gators offense in Muschamp’s first two seasons, the Gators live and die with their ground game. Florida was left without a key source in Matt Jones, however, his backup Mack Brown trucked the whole load with a dominant offensive line against the Rockets defense. Brown touted the ball 25 times for 112 yards, his career high in carries and yards in a game. Brown had only 40 carries since arriving in Gainesville coming into the game. The most impressive takeaway was the strong advantage the Gators offense had on Toledo in time of possession, elapsing almost three quarters of the game by themselves.
The running game was so dominant in the later stages that the Florida contingent got to see the highly-touted product from Jacksonville, Kelvin Taylor, weave through traffic, with a handful of carries, including a 27-yard run. Taylor has undeniable talents. He simply needs to have carries even when Jones comes back next week. Taylor might not break his father, Fred Taylor’s freshman rushing sum of 873 yards and eight touchdown, though, because of the crowded backfield the Gators possess.
Gator fans shouldn’t question whether Driskel has a No. 1 option at receiver after this contest. When you are moving the ball at will with a power-run game, you simply don’t get too cute. Burton is as sure handed as they come, and will for sure be broken in at Coral Gables next week. Burton’s 59 yards on five catches proved that the Gators offense still wanted to stabilize the quick-passing game that Pease is accustomed to. Valdez Showers, an ex-safety made four grabs out of the backfield in the game, for the second most by a Gator. The Gators will be a power-run offense, set up by easy and quick passes on the outside to their backs and offensive weapon, Mr. Burton.
Saturday’s 415 total yards on offense by the Gators, bypassed their out-of-conference game totals last season, a season of firsts for Muschamp. Florida created 22 first downs, and were 6-for-12 on third down. Florida did all of this without three projected starters Saturday: Jones and offensive linemen Chaz Green and Jon Halapio.
Florida went for 188 rushing yards a game in 2012, today Toledo surrender 262 yards on the ground. Miami only surrendered 217 yards a game in 2012, can the reliable running game of Jones and Brown make even more believers next week in Coral Gables?