GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — No. 10 Florida doesn’t have any identity issues.
The Gators know exactly who they are under third-year coach Will Muschamp: a blue-collar, physical group that’s going to try to beat opponents up and wear them down on both sides of the ball.
It’s mostly boring, often predictable and fairly successful.
It’s Muschamp’s mark. And it’s Florida’s way these days.
In the season opener, a 24-6 victory over Toledo on Saturday, the Gators looked to be in midseason form.
They ran for 262 yards and two touchdowns, were efficient in the passing game and dominant on defense. It’s the same formula that helped Florida win 11 games last season and reach the Sugar Bowl.
I had a lot of confidence before today and I feel even more so after today,” Muschamp said after the game. “When we’re able to run the ball that effectively, we’re going to create explosives.”
Mack Brown, a seldom-used junior making his first career start, provided plenty of spark for the offense. He ran 25 times for 112 yards and two scores, doing enough to earn more work even when starter Matt Jones returns next week at Miami.
Jones missed nearly a month of practice while recovering from a viral infection.
Brown filled in just fine against the Rockets. He scored from a yard out on Florida’s initial possession, finding a huge holed and crossing the goal line without getting touched. It was the first touchdown the Gators have scored on a season-opening drive in the post-Tim Tebow era (since 2009).
Brown was even better on his second score, breaking tackles and turning heads with a 14-yard scamper that put Florida up 17-3.
He needed a break after that. After all, he had just 40 carries and 167 yards in his previous three seasons combined.
“Oh, man, I was cramping,” said Brown, who headed to the sideline to vomit. “I was overhydrated. I drank like four Gatorades back to back.”
Driskel took much better care of his body, a promising sign for the Gators.
He completed 17 of 22 passes for 153 yards and a score, rolling out often and getting rid of the ball early. He also ran for 19 yards and showed he could slide or get out of bounds to avoid hits.
It wasn’t all positive, though. He was sacked twice and fumbled on both, and he failed to connect on any down-field throws. Those have been missing during Muschamp’s tenure, but the Gators insist they will be part of the run-heavy offense.
“Big plays will come,” Driskel said. “You can’t force them. We had some deeper throws designed, but sometimes the defense takes those away from you. Later on down the road, they’ll be there.”
Florida’s defense seemed to have an ever better grasp of things.
The unit, which lost seven starters and its coordinator after last season, held Toledo to 205 yards and one third-down conversion in 13 attempts.
Linebacker Ronald Powell, playing his first game in nearly two years because of two knee injuries, and defensive tackle Dominique Easley were in the backfield all afternoon. And highly touted cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III had an interception in his first game.
“We can be as disruptive as we want to be,” Powell said. “We only can beat ourselves. If we go out and play as hard and as well as we’ve been coached to play, I don’t see anyone being able to block us.”
That kind of defense is one aspect of Muschamp’s philosophy. It’s also a perfect complement to the ball-control offense. Together, they have the Gators well aware of who they are, what they need to do to be successful and understanding there’s plenty of progress left to be made.
“They always say your most improvement’s from Week 1 to Week 2,” Muschamp said. “We hope that adage continues.”
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