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September 1, 2013
Week 1: What we learned
A successful opener looks a little different under Will Muschamp than it has under previous regimes. Aside from a couple hiccups and a sluggish start to the second half, Florida's 24-6 victory against Toledo was just that: a textbook Muschamp opener. Here's a closer look at what Inside the Gators took away from Saturday's UF victory.
- This defense could be special: How special? I'll let senior cornerback Jaylen Watkins compare it to 2012's unit, which finished No. 5 in FBS in average yards allowed. "We can be better. We've got a lot more depth in the secondary, a bunch of guys that are rotating in. Same thing at linebacker, and we get Antonio Morrison back this week." That's not even mentioning the front four, which terrorized Toledo's offensive line Saturday. The depth at linebacker can be questioned, but Florida's safety play was outstanding Saturday and the Gators appear to have more speed and versatility than ever.
- Not much has changed offensively: Florida ran the ball about 69 percent of the time Saturday and racked up 262 yards on the ground. Part of that had to do with wanting to keep Toledo's up-tempo offense off the field bit it also had plenty to do with the identity of this team. The Rockets played off Florida receivers, so Jeff Driskel ran the usual efficient yet unremarkable Gators passing game throwing one short pass after another to go 17 of 22 for 153 yards. The good news is the seed is there for Florida to expand its offense. The Gators showed numerous looks but little detail Saturday, and didn't even try to tap into the deep threat it has in Demarcus Robinson.
- Florida is deep at running back: So much for running back by committee Saturday. Aside from some fatigue issues in the Florida humidity, Mack Brown played the part of feature back just fine - rushing 25 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns. It was against one of the nation's worst run defenses, but Brown showed Mike Gillislee-like vision and ran hard regardless. Mark Herndon and Kelvin Taylor both made nice runs in "garbage" time, and the Gators get Matt Jones - who looked fine in warmups - back Saturday at Miami. Valdez Showers adds a change-of-pace option outside the tackles the Gators didn't have in 2012. There is no question Florida has the backfield tools to create a premier running game.
- Penalties are still an issue: The Gators were penalized 10 times for 70 yards. Six of those penalties were on the defense and four of those penalties came on third or fourth down. Jumping offsides was the most prominent issue. Florida defenders were called offsides five times. The bright side: Florida avoided the 15-yard unsportsmanlike penalties Muschamp warned his team about before the season. Watkins noticeably shied away from a confrontation with a Toledo wide receiver than ended in a 15-yard penalty for the Rockets, and no Gators celebrated elaborately after touchdowns.
- The Southeastern Conference is wide-open: Georgia dropped its season-opener at Clemson Saturday night. Alabama needed three return (one kick, one punt, one interception) touchdowns to handily beat Virginia Tech on a neutral field. South Carolina wasn't overwhelming against North Carolina Thursday night. The SEC is anyone's game this season, and the Gators aren't nearly as much of a lock for third in the East as national analysts might have you think. Florida has just as much of a chance as anyone else. It's been a while since there were this many teams with a legitimate chance to win the SEC.