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Florida enjoys 24th straight opening-day win

The SportsXchange

GAINESVILLE -- Florida redshirt junior Mack Brown said he had tears in his eyes when he lined up to run out on the field for the season opener on Saturday against Toledo.

"I had felt worthless the last two seasons," he said.

On Saturday, he was about as valuable as he could have hoped -- getting career highs in rushing attempts (25) and yards (112) while scoring the first two touchdowns of his career in a 24-6 win against Toledo.

A year ago, it was Mike Gillislee who had the first 100-yard game of his career in the opener. On Saturday, Brown had runs of 1 and 14 yards for TDs.

In deja vu fashion, Florida took an early lead and methodically moved the ball much of the game to pile up yardage and points to claim their 24th straight season-opening win, the second-longest streak nationally.

It was hauntingly like a repeat of a year ago when the defense had to hold off a MAC opponent and a back had the first 100-yard game of his career -- Gillislee going for 148 in last year's 27-14 win vs. Bowling Green.

Jeff Driskel was nearly perfect in his first start of his second season as the Gators' QB, completing 10 of 11 passes in the first half with mostly short throws. He finished 16 of 21 for 152 yards and one touchdown -- a 4-yard scoring pass to backup fullback Gideon Ajagbe to close out the scoring in the closing moments of the third quarter.

UF had some other problems from the past -- with a lost fumble and 10 penalties for 70 yards.

"The self-inflicted issues hurt us again today. ... We've got to secure the ball a little better, we've got to protect a little better. But again we did some nice things with the throwing game especially with some new faces," Gators coach Will Muschamp said.

Florida set the tempo right away on defense.

Toledo was held to 101 yards in the first half -- just 33 on the ground -- after averaging almost 200 yards a game in 2012, as the Gators came out intense up front and clearly dominated the battle in the trenches. The same was true offensively, as Brown pounded the middle of the line.

"Their kids, at the end of the day, executed better than we did," Rockets coach Matt Campbell said. "I'm proud of our football team and I thought I saw great growth by some of our young guys. There's some areas we certainly take after this game and must continue to do better, but I thought it was a great learning experience and all."

Florida announced prior to the kickoff that standout defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy, receiver Latroy Pittman, defensive back Darious Cummings and offensive lineman Quinteze Williams had been suspended for violating team rules.

Linebacker Antonio Morrison was also suspended from the first game earlier for offseason issues.

Along with injuries to starting offensive linemen Jon Halapio (torn pectoral) and Chaz Green (torn laburm, out for season) and Matt Jones (viral infection), the Gators started the season missing five of the 22 projected starters on offense and defense.

Florida struggled all last season to produce points, at least early in games, but drove 84 yards with its first possession to take a lead on Brown's 1-yard run. Brown, starting in place of Jones, had 38 yards in five attempts to pace the first series.

It was the first time since the 2009 season that the Gators scored on their first possession. UF had just one first-quarter touchdown in its last six games a year ago.

"I give credit to Florida, that's a pretty good offense led by a darn good quarterback, and I saw our defense really, after those first couple of drives, kind of settle in," Campbell said.

Florida, which was shut out six times in the first quarter last season, made it 10-0 on Austin Hardin's first career field goal from 24 yards out with 12:59 left in the half.

Toledo almost created a disaster for itself by failing to covert a fourth-and-1 on its own 36 the next time it got the ball. But the Gators fumbled it right back. The Rockets then moved to the Florida 28 after a 28-yard pass from Terrance Owens to back David Fluellen.

But Toledo, 0-for-6 on third-down conversions in the first half, had to settle for a 45-yard field goal by Jeremiah Detmer to end the shutout with 9:24 remaining in the second quarter.

Florida responded with its own drive, 10 plays over 83 yards, finished off by Brown's second career touchdown, this one right up the middle from 14 yards out. That made it 17-3 at the 3:20 mark in the opening half to put the game well under control.

NOTES: Detmer's field goal vs. the Gators was his 18th consecutive conversion dating back to last season. ... Florida's Brown had 40 career carries in three years prior to Saturday but had 14 for 77 yards in the first half alone. ... The most points Florida scored in an opening half last year was 24 vs. Kentucky, and it nearly matched that effort in the opener.
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