GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Mack Brown had tears in eyes before the game and a smile on his face after.
In between, he ran for 112 yards and two touchdowns — and vomited on the sideline.
Not a bad start for Brown or No. 10 Florida.
Brown’s career day, Jeff Driskel’s efficiency and a dominant defense carried the Gators to a 24-6 win over Toledo in the teams’ season opener Saturday.
“I felt like I was useless for the last couple of years,” said Brown, a fourth-year junior who did little his first three years in Gainesville. “Getting an opportunity. Just took it and ran with it. It felt good, man. I can’t really express it.”
Brown ran 25 times, equally his carries from all of last season.
He was making his first career start, in the lineup in place of Matt Jones. The sophomore missed the opener while recovering from a viral infection. He is expected to return next week at Miami, but Brown certainly stated his case to get some carries the rest of the season.
“There’s no question,” coach Will Muschamp said. “The more a guy plays, and the more he plays well, it gives you great confidence in putting him in the game and knowing he’s going to play well. … We expected him to play extremely well today.”
His teammates weren’t too bad, either.
Driskel completed 17 of 22 passes for 153 yards and a score, rolling out often and getting rid of the ball early. Florida’s defense, which ranked fifth in the country in 2012, looked every bit as good as last year’s version despite losing eight starters and its coordinator.
The Gators controlled both lines of scrimmage, opening holes for Brown and keeping steady pressure on Toledo’s experienced offense. It was exactly the style of play Florida has become known for under Muschamp. No flashiness. Few highlight-reel plays. But a win in the end.
It was Florida’s 24th consecutive season-opening victory, the second-longest active streak in the country. Only Nebraska (27) has a longer current run.
Some thought Florida would struggle against the Rockets, who were picked to finish second in the Mid-American Conference’s West Division. Toledo returned nine starters on offense, four on defense, played in three consecutive bowl games and even beat a ranked team last season.
But the Gators pretty much dominated from the start, wearing down Toledo in 90-degree heat and sweltering humidity.
The Rockets finished with 205 yards and were 1 of 13 on third down.
Terrance Owens completed 17 of 38 passes for 155 yards, with an interception. David Fluellen ran nine times for 46 yards, including a 28-yard burst. And Bernard Reedy caught seven passes for 50 yards.
They were no match for the Gators, who got standout performances from defensive end Dominique Easley, linebacker Neiron Ball and freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III.
“They’re tough,” Fluellen said. “They’re ranked for a reason. … They didn’t do anything schematically. They just went out there and played.”
Florida totaled 414 yards of offense, including 262 on the ground.
Freshman Kelvin Taylor, the son of retired NFL standout Fred Taylor, got on the field in the fourth quarter and ran for 43 yards. Former walk-on Mark Herndon added 32 yards on the ground. And Valdez Showers, a safety who moved to offense this fall, ran for 31 more.
The Gators had two 80-yard-plus touchdown drives in the first half, including one on their initial possession. It was the first time in the post-Tim Tebow era (since 2009) that Florida scored a TD on its opening drive of the season.
“That’s a heck of a deal,” Muschamp said.
Brown capped the 84-yard drive by going untouched from a yard out. He was even better on his second score, breaking tackles and turning heads with a 14-yard scamper that put Florida up 17-3.
“Oh, man, I was cramping. My neck was cramping,” said Brown, who headed to the sideline to vomit. “I was overhydrated. I drank like four Gatorades back to back.”
It was about the only hiccup for the Gators.
Florida did, however, have five players suspended for opener.
Linebacker Antonio Morrison, who was arrested twice in a five-week span this summer, and cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy were suspended. So were defensive tackle Darious Cummings, receiver Latroy Pittman and offensive lineman Quinteze Williams.
Four of the five — all except Pittman — will be back next week against the Hurricanes.
“They made a mistake,” Muschamp said. “We have consequences in our program. Are players understand that. They move forward. We’re not going to make excuses at Florida, regardless of injury or sickness. That’s why you recruit and that’s why you have a deep roster.”