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August 31, 2013
Mack Brown didn't sleep much Friday night - four hours to be exact. Three years of watching from the sidelines built up to an anxious night before his first start.
The nerves didn't go away after his first touch or his second or his 25th.
"You can ask anybody on the team," Brown said. "I was nervous the whole time."
When Will Muschamp announced Aug. 1 that sophomore starting running back Matt Jones was out indefinitely with a serious viral infection, it opened the door for a new face to step up in whatever short time he would be given.
Brown was the only option with a collegiate carry, but fingers seemed to be pointed everywhere else to find Jones' temporary replacement. There was emerging walk-on Mark Herndon and star freshman Kelvin Taylor and even converted safety Valdez Showers.
Muschamp said as recently as Monday that the Gators would employ a running back by committee Saturday. That Brown wouldn't be treated as a feature back but rather another guy sharing carries. Then he surpassed his single-game rushing high and scored his first-career touchdown.
And that was just the first drive of the game.
"He earned it, in my opinion," Muschamp said. "We talked on the headsets a little bit. Brent Pease and Brian White really felt like he was running well, running hard and running tough. ? Mack deserved that. He was the guy that had the hot hand."
Brown - he of 167 yards and zero touchdowns during his time at UF - finished with 25 carries for 112 yards and two touchdowns. His first touchdown set the tone for the game and capped an 11-play, 84-yard drive. Everyone knew what was coming on his second touchdown run.
Lined up behind Florida's famed jumbo package with no on out wide, Brown found a hole up the middle and then fought through an array of defenders for a 14-yard touchdown rumble on third and one. Not accustomed to that type of action, Brown went to the sidelines and spewed his pre-game meal.
"I was over-hydrated," Brown said. "I drank like four Gatorades back to back."
Brown had 97 yards entering halftime but was limited in the second half because of cramps. Florida's offense stalled because of it, mostly because of successful adjustments by Toledo and limited holes up front.
When the Gators gave the running backs behind Brown carries late, they showed plenty of promise. Herndon notched four carries for 32 yards, while Taylor broke off a 27-yard run as part of a 43-yard day. The remaining fans inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium cheered loudly when Taylor's name was called for the first time.
Next Saturday, order is restored. Jones looked fine going through pre-game warm-ups Saturday and he'll make his return against Miami. Before Saturday, there might have been questions of what that means for Brown. Will he get carries or fade into obscurity again? Not anymore.
"Absolutely," Muschamp said of whether or not Brown will have a major role moving forward. "The more he plays, the more he plays well, it gives you great confidence in putting him in a game and knowing he's going to play well. I'm speaking for the whole organization, we expected him to play extremely well today. We expected that to happen."