Gators follow winning formula


Florida Gators defensive lineman Jonathan Bullard (90) tries to make a tackle during the first half against Toledo in Gainesville, Fla., Saturday, August 31, 2013. (Doug Finger/Staff photographer)

The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 6:58 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 8:06 p.m.

In Will Muschamp’s second season in 2012, the Florida Gators established a formula for success. They won 11 games by playing great defense and special teams, grinding out drives with a strong running game and doing whatever it takes to ensure being on top at the end of the day.

Facts

Three things

1. In his first start at Florida, redshirt junior tailback Mack Brown was the offensive star of the day, rushing for 112 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries to pace a strong UF ground game.

2. The Florida defense held an explosive hurry-up Toledo offense to only 50 yards rushing and 205 total yards -- and kept the Rockets out of the end zone.

3.The Gators scored a touchdown on their first offensive possession for the first time in an opener since the 2009 season.

-- Robbie Andreu

That formula never gets old. Because winning never gets old.

The No. 10 Gators went back to that trusty formula Saturday and it produced a pleasing opening-day result -- a 24-6 victory over Toledo before 83,604 in The Swamp.

Florida won with defense, an effective ground game and solid special teams.

That was the plan going in, Muschamp said.

“The tempo (of the Toledo offense), the issues they present, I’m very proud of how we managed the game defensively,” Muschamp said. “I really liked our balance offensively.

“When you’re able to run the ball as effectively as we did, then we win the game -- knowing we did not want to take 89 snaps on defense -- we wanted to run the ball and we did.

“I’m disappointed we missed a couple (passes) down the field. We had some shots. But those are going to come. I saw them hit all through camp. But the balance offensively, keeping (the Toledo offense off the field), our guys did a fantastic job.”

The Rockets up-tempo, fast-break offense had problems getting on the field at times because the Gators were successful controlling the ball on the ground, led by first-time starting tailback Mack Brown, who rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns.

The Gators were never better than on their first drive, carving up the Rockets with Brown on the ground and rolling 84 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown, the score coming on a one-yard Brown run.

Brown was the focal point of the offense in the drive -- and for most of the rest of the game.

With starting tailback Matt Jones still out recovering from a viral infection, the plan Saturday was to alternate two or three tailbacks. But after Brown’s impressive start, the coaches made him the every-down back.

“Mack Brown deserved that,” Muschamp said. “He was the guy that had the hot hand. We talked on the headset a little bit and (offensive coordinator) Brent (Pease) and (running backs coach) Brian White felt that’s what we wanted to stick with.

“Mack Brown is a guy that’s talented. Nothing shocks me with what he did today. I was expecting him to run hard and run well.”

In his first two seasons at UF, Brown was not much of a factor. He came into Saturday’s game with only 167 yards rushing for his career. But he got his chance and came up with a big performance.

“With an offensive line like that and a coaching staff like that, anybody can do that,” Brown said of his performance. “After not playing much before, I feel like I’ve got it rolling now, making plays for the team. It feels good.”

Muschamp said Brown’s effort likely will earn him more carries even with the expected return of Jones next week.

As for Florida’s passing game, which many are expecting to be significantly better in Driskel’s second year as the starter, the Gators were still somewhat inconsistent, hitting some plays and missing others.

Driskel completed 17 of 22 passses for 153 yards and a touchdown (four yards to fullback Gideon Ajagbe in the third quarter), was sacked twice and lost a fumble. His highlight throw was a 26-yarder to Trey Burton on a play-action pass early in the fourth quarter.

“We did some nice things in the throwing game,” Muschamp said.

Driskel said it’s only going to get better.

“Big plays will come,” Driskel said. “You can’t force them. We had some deeper throws designed, but sometimes the defense takes those away from you. You can’t force that; you can’t force the big play.

“On down the road, they’ll be there.”

A sturdy UF defense also figures to be there.

The Gators gave up a few pass plays on the perimeter, but for the most part held a potent, up-tempo offense in check, limiting the Rockets to two field goals and 205 total yards. UF played without starting cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, one of five players suspended from the opener.

“A lot of credit goes to them, our failure to execute a little bit offensively in some third-and-long situations,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. “You’re not going to beat a great Florida team that’s got great speed on defense over tight windows on third and long.”

The game was competitive throughout, but the Gators put it away with Ajagbe’s touchdown reception in the closing minute of the third quarter that gave UF a 24-6 lead.

The game was in good hands from there thanks to UF’s strong defense and a ball-control ground game which allowed the Gators to kill the game’s final 6:49.

It was a winning -- and familiar -- formula for the Gators.

“It was a win,” Muschamp said. “It’s always good to get a win.”

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