Gators show off deep, talented roster in opener
Published: Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 5:35 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, August 31, 2013 at 8:02 p.m.
There was something about this opening day that made the Gator Nation a little nervous. There were the injuries and the suspensions and the viral infection and the smaller-than normal crowd.
The Swamp wasn't really The Swamp on Saturday because of the oppressive heat and the opponent and the trend to watch TV with the thermostat set to ice box. And so, you wondered about how fired up this team would be.
And then there was Kirk Herbstreit. He wasn't alone in putting the Gators on upset alert, but he took it a step further Saturday morning when he picked Toledo. I thought some of the strange-colored dye he's using in his hair has seeped into his brain. (Herbstreit later apologized to the Gator Nation via Twitter).
You put it all together and it caused butterflies to hatch in the stomachs of a lot of Gator fans. When this game was scheduled several years ago, nobody knew Toledo would be coming off a nine-win season with a senior quarterback and a 1,000-yard rusher.
As storm clouds gathered and another opening-day win had been secured, Will Muschamp was proven right when he talked this offseason about how much he liked his roster.
Because a team that wasn't deep might have been in trouble Saturday.
“We're a deep team,” said quarterback Jeff Driskel. “We hear it all the time, when you play at a place like Florida, you're going to be expected to step up when your number is called.”
The news of the suspensions that broke Friday was just another reason to wonder if this might be the year that Florida's streak came to an end. Instead, it was a testament to how well the coaches have recruited.
“We're not going to make any excuses at Florida,” Muschamp said. “That's why you recruit. That's why you don't recruit guys who ask about the depth chart 400 times. Vernon Hargreaves didn't ask about the depth chart.”
No, because he knows he can play and Saturday he showed it with the biggest defensive play of the game, a nifty interception and return that set Florida up for its foot-on-the-neck final score.
Certainly, a 24-6 win over Toledo isn't sexy. And two years ago, Florida fans might walk away from a game like this with a lot of questions.
But by now, you've gotten to know Muschamp's methods. And 24-6 was probably what you were hoping for.
It could have been better if Solomon Patton doesn't drop a deep pass and Quinton Dunbar doesn't hold on a touchdown and Austin Hardin doesn't miss a field goal.
We didn't see much of the explosive offense that was promised for this season because Toledo played a lot of two-deep defense and Florida wanted to shorten the game so that the missing players wouldn't be as big of a factor.
We did see Driskel do some nice things, including switching some plays at the line of scrimmage that resulted in big running plays. We saw that Dominique Easley appears primed to have a huge year. We saw a power-running game in the first half and fourth quarter, but an offense that bogged down in the third quarter.
We saw a lot of firsts, including Mack Brown's first touchdown.
“Aw, man, I got butterflies when I scored,” Brown said.
We saw a bunch of young players who have some major talent.
“A lot of the young guys were big-eyed walking out of the locker room,” Muschamp said.
But they settled down.
And Florida settled for a solid win.
Now delete this game from your VCR or DVR and forget about it. Because what we saw Saturday was what it took to beat Toledo. What it will take to win the games coming up will take something completely different.
“When we can run the ball like we did, we're going to be able to create the explosive plays,” Muschamp said.
Just be patient.
Contact Pat Dooley at 352-374-5053 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow at Twitter.com/Pat_Dooley.