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September 1, 2013
Upon Further Review: Florida takes opener
Here are a dozen observations from Florida's 24-6 season opening win over Toledo.
OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
Redshirt junior running back Mack Brown had his number called and delivered in a big way on Saturday, picking up 97 yards on his 17 first-half carries and finishing over the century mark with 112 yards on 25 touches out of the backfield. Brown found the end zone on Florida's first offensive drive of the season - the first time that's happened since 2009 - registering his first career touchdown in the process. He added a second score on a shifty 14-yard run with 3:20 left in the second quarter. But if you ask Brown, his best play of the game came in the third quarter when he threw a big-time cut block that allowed redshirt junior Gideon Ajagbe to catch a four-yard play-action pass for the first touchdown of his career. Brown's carries and total yardage were both career-highs and his 23-yard gain in the first half was a career-long. Oh, it was the first start of his career, too. Though sophomore Matt Jones will be back in action next week, presumably as the primary ball carrier, Brown earned himself extra touches this season and plenty of respect in the process.
DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE GAME
There were a number of impressive performances from Gators defenders on Saturday, but heck, let's go with the sentimental choice here. Playing in his first college football game in 20 months - spanning more than 500 days - redshirt junior Sam linebacker Ronald Powell registered a drive-ending sack on the third defensive snap of the game and hurried quarterback Terrance Owens on three other occasions. Florida got consistent pressure on Owens, especially in the first half, and Powell was a big reason why. Powell had four sacks in the final six games of 2011 and showed flashes of the player that made a big leap in the 2012 offseason before going down with two ACL injuries in a six-month span.
UNSUNG HERO OF THE GAME
Even when he plays well, no one seems to want to give Jeff Driskel his share of the credit. Driskel went 17-for-22 on Saturday, completing 77.3 percent of his passes in what was the most efficient throwing game of his career. It was also the highest completion percentage registered by a Gators quarterback since Jan. 1, 2010 - Tim Tebow's near-perfect Sugar Bowl performance against Cincinnati. Not to mention, of Driskel's five incompletions, two were perfectly-placed throws that were blatant drops by his receivers. For all intents and purposes, Driskel missed three throws in a four-quarter game and managed the running game quite well, too. One could certainly criticize his lack of awareness on the first strip-sack fumble - head coach Will Muschamp refused to place blame on him for that after the game - or his failure to cradle the ball on the second strip-sack fumble, however.
STAT LINES OF THE GAME
415-205, 262-50 and 39:48-20:12 … which represent the disparity in total yards, rushing yards and time of possession between Florida and Toledo. The Gators more than doubled the Rockets in overall yardage and possession of the football and ran for more than five times as many yards and the visitors. That's domination. Florida finished the 2012 season ranked No. 9 in time of possession nationally. The Gators look like they have picked up where they left off in that regard.
ON THE RISE
There are a number of choices here, undoubtedly, including a pair of players in Ajagbe and redshirt sophomore RB Valdez Showers that switched positions in the off-season and played a big role in Florida's victory on Saturday. However, this week's honor goes to redshirt junior defensive tackle Leon Orr, who looked like an absolute beast at times feasting on Toledo's running backs and offensive linemen. Orr finished with four solo tackles (one for loss) and a sack on the afternoon. He looked every bit capable of starting at nose tackle for the Gators and played a larger role than usual with senior Darious Cummings sidelined due to suspension. Orr stepped up to the challenge.
ON THE BUBBLE
Where, oh where, are Florida's tight ends? Granted everyone knew entering the game that the Gators were not going to be able to match the production of Jordan Reed from a year ago at the position, but UF's tight ends combined for one reception for one yard on the afternoon. That catch was by junior Tevin Westbrook, a converted defensive lineman. Junior Clay Burton did not catch the ball (despite starting) and sophomore Kent Taylor did not even participate in the game. Florida needs all hands on deck on the offensive side of the ball, and the tight end position - notably Burton - did not pull its own weight Saturday from a playmaking standpoint.
Though Clay Burton was noticeably absent from the box score, senior Trey Burton - the quarterback-turned-running back-turned wide receiver - not only contributed but led the Gators in catches (5) and reception yards (69). That's good news in terms of his ability to produce for Florida at his most recent position, but it's also a bit concerning because…
...where exactly was the improved receiving corps Driskel, Muschamp and offensive coordinator Brent Pease raved about all off-season? Redshirt junior Quinton Dunbar had a great 15-yard reception on the opening drive but finished the game with two catches for 22 yards. Senior starter Solomon Patton had one catch or 21 yards (dropping another that would have been a long gain). And as far as the freshmen are concerned, supposed superstar Demarcus Robinson was only targeted once while Ahmad Fulwood caught one pass for five yards. All of that may be fine and dandy against Toledo, but it will not suffice next week when Florida travels to Miami. The Gators may never be a throw-first team or incredibly electric offense, but Florida has to move the ball vertically and did not show much improvement in that area in the opener, if any.
PLAY OF THE GAME
With momentum having slowed in the second half, freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III intercepted Owens, grabbing the first pick of his young career and returning the ball 15 yards to the Rockets' 23-yard line. The turnover turned up the Gators' energy after a sluggish start to the half and quickly resulted in a touchdown as Driskel found Ajagbe for a pair of receptions - a 12-yard gain created by a spin move and later the four-yard play-action score.
THE GOOD NEWS
Florida won. The Gators were missing six starters - two of which are out for the season, of course - including three important players that will be back for next week's game against the Hurricanes. Muschamp also admitted he was relatively vanilla in play calling both sides of the ball, which he claimed was due to lack of depth and a desire to keep his players fresh during the heat of the day.
THE BAD NEWS
The 2013 incarnation of Florida did not look much different from the 2012 team. The Gators committed stupid penalties that stalled drives, did not display a vertical passing game and squandered opportunities to step on their opponent's throat. Florida was never in danger of losing the game but anyone watching knew full well that the Gators were not about to blow the doors off The Swamp either.
A LOOK AHEAD
Florida faces a true test as it heads into a road game at Miami for the first time since 2003. The last time the Gators faced the Hurricanes in the second game of the season was 2008 with Florida on its way to an eventual national championship and Miami still on a steep decline. These days, the Canes appear to be trending upward while the Gators are trying to prove that their 2012 success was not a fluke. Miami has been looking ahead to this game all off-season, but Muschamp has kept Florida on an even kilter with his one-game-at-a-time approach. The in-state rivals will be squaring off for the last time in the foreseeable future with no future games scheduled, so the Gators undoubtedly need to leave their mark with back-to-back wins after losing eight in a row from 1986-2004.