It did not take long for the No. 10 Florida Gators to assert themselves on Saturday, using a touchdown on their first offensive drive and a stellar performance from redshirt junior running back Mack Brown to blast the Toledo Rockets 17-3 in the season opener for both teams at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, FL.
Starting his first game at tailback for the Gators, Brown toted the rock a career-high 25 times for a career-high 112 yards, scored the first two touchdowns of his career and broke off for a career-long 23-yard rush on Florida’s first offensive drive of the game.
Toledo started the game on offense but failed to move the ball. On 3rd-and-10, UF redshirt junior Sam linebacker Ronald Powell, playing his first college football game in 20 months, registered the team’s first sack of the season.
The Gators took over on their own 16 and put together an impressive 11-play, 84-yard drive capped by a one-yard touchdown run from Brown. Junior quarterback Jeff Driskel went 3-for-3 with two 15+ yard passes before Brown’s 23-yard run brought Florida down to the 11-yard line.
Brown’s score gave the Gators a touchdown on their first offensive drive in a season opener for the first time since 2009.
Read the rest of the Florida-Toledo game story…after the break!
Florida soon jumped ahead 10-0 on the visitors as a 29-yard backfield toss to redshirt sophomore Valdez Showers aided an eight-play, 52-yard drive that ended in a 24-yard field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Austin Hardin, the first of his career.
Though the Gators appeared to have another great opportunity after Rockets QB Terrance Owens fumbled a snap on 4th-and-1 at Toledo’s 36-yard line and Florida took over on downs, Driskel gave the ball right back when he failed to tuck the ball and was strip-sacked for a fumble.
Rockets RB David Fluellen immediately took off for 28 yards on his team’s next play from scrimmage, and Toledo ended the four-play drive with a 44-yard field goal.
The Gators answered immediately, however, completing a 10-play, 83-yard drive with a 14-yard touchdown run by Brown, his second score of the afternoon. Brown toted the ball five times on the drive, totaling 31 yards by the time he reached the end zone to put UF ahead 17-3.
Hoping to reduce their deficit before halftime, the Rockets gained 47 yards and got down to the Gators’ 38. However, an excellent tackle by Florida senior cornerback Jaylen Watkins on Toledo wide receiver Bernard Reedy caused him to become angered and shove Watkins, registering a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct penalty that stalled the drive and effectively ended the half.
The Gators opened the second half by stalling and going three-and-out on their first two offensive drives. In between, the Rockets gained 63 yards in eight plays by rushing the tempo, driving down to the Florida’s five-yard line and cutting its lead to 17-6 following a 23-yard field goal.
UF’s momentum was noticeably slowed in the second half but picked up near the end of the third quarter as Gators freshman CB Vernon Hargreaves III intercepted Owens, the first of his young career, and returned the ball 15 yards to UT’s 23-yard line.
A pair of throws from Driskel to Florida redshirt junior fullback Gideon Ajagbe – first a 12-yard gain created by a spin move and later a four-yard play action touchdown pass – put the Gators back on the board and ahead 24-6 entering the fourth quarter.
Florida junior CB Marcus Roberson gave his team another great opportunity to score, returning a punt 38 yards to the Toledo 46 before the Gators began their next offensive possession. UF quickly established 1st-and-Goal at the 10-yard line, but a pair of untimely holding penalties negated an end-around touchdown by senior WR Solomon Patton and eventually pushed Florida back to the 22 where Hardin shanked a 39-yard field goal wide left.
Driskel finished 17-of-22 for 153 yards and a touchdown before being relieved late in the fourth quarter by redshirt junior Tyler Murphy. Junior wide receiver Trey Burton led all pass catchers with five receptions for 69 yards. Showers totaled 54 yards on six touches, and freshman RB Kelvin Taylor carried the ball five times for 43 yards in mop-up duty late in the game.
UF took its foot off the gas from there, winning its 24th consecutive season opener (second-longest streak in the nation) while saving its strength for next week’s road trip to Miami. The Gators and Hurricanes will square off at noon live on ESPN.
Photo Credit: John Raoux/Associated Press