For the SEC-leading 24th consecutive season, the Gators opened their season off with a win. Florida was able to score on the opening drive for what Will Muschamp said was the first time since 2009 (Jeff Demps vs. Charleston Southern) that Florida was able to score a touchdown on the opening drive of the season. What we didn’t know was that when Austin Hardin connected on his first career PAT, that the Gators would have all the points they needed on the day as Florida downed the Toledo Rockets 24-6.
We went into the game with a pretty good working knowledge of what we should expect from Florida this season. Some of our concerns were answered, some not and we even found out some things about the team that we didn’t know previously.
Here are the top 10 things that we learned about the Gators on Saturday.
10. The defense is as good as advertised
All summer you heard about how tough it would be to replace Matt Elam, Sharrif Floyd, Omar Hunter, Jon Bostic, Lerentee McCray and Jelani Jenkins. Well, fear not Gator fans because the defense is reloaded, they’re nasty and they’re playing for keeps.
9. Where was Demarcus Robinson?
The talented freshman receiver was the belle of the ball this offseason, impressing the coaching staff and his teammates this spring and fall. Robinson saw plenty of action on Saturday in the opener and had several nice blocks on the outside. Robinson didn’t haul in a reception and wasn’t even targeted during the game. The outcome was never really in doubt and Florida didn’t have to take too many shots downfield but it would have been nice to see Robinson play a bigger role in the offense on Saturday.
8. Vernon Hargreaves III is the real deal.
One freshman who did make an impact was cornerback Vernon Hargreaves. VH III, as fans call him, not only played early but he played often. Marcus Roberson and Jaylen Watkins were given entire drives off in place of Hargreaves and he responded by playing like a seasoned vet. Hargreaves biggest play came on an interception where he undercut a route and took what was his. He wasn’t content with the takeaway; Hargreaves also returned the interception 15-yards, setting Florida up with good field position on offense.
7. Gideon Ajagbe is more than just Hunter Joyer’s backup.
The seldom-used linebacker made a move to offense this spring and the position change looks like it has rejuvenated his career. Despite being listed as the backup fullback, Ajagbe earned the start on Saturday and showed that he is ready to be a major contributor this season. He had two receptions for 16-yards and a touchdown. He missed some blocks, but also had a devastating block that sprung Mack Brown for the first of his two touchdowns on the day. The move to offense first appeared to be just a move to get some depth at the position but based on Ajagbe’s performance on Saturday, it is much more than that.
6. The staff continues to recruit well.
Florida had a total of 15 freshmen (8 true freshmen, 7 redshirt freshmen) see action in the opener. Will Muschamp isn’t afraid to play his youngsters and he gave credit to Vernon Hargreaves for never asking about the depth chart when he was being recruited. Muschamp is going to play the best players at each position and it doesn’t matter if you’re a freshman, or a senior.
5. They are who we thought they were.
Florida showed their identity on Saturday and, well, it’s an identity that we saw last season and expected to see again this year. Florida is a run-first team that will try to control the clock on offense and rely on a stifling defense. They have won games with this style and will continue to win games this way.
Is it flashy? No. Is it sexy? No. Does Will Muschamp care about either of those things? Nope.
4. Florida is deep at running back.
When Matt Jones went down with a viral infection the Gator Nation went into a panic. Behind Jones were two freshmen, a redshirt junior who had yet to make an impact and a former walk-on.
What we learned on Sunday is that when Matt Jones comes back (presumably this week against Miami) Florida has a deep, talented stable of backs behind him.
Mack Brown carried the load on Saturday but it wasn’t by design. Brown was supposed to share carries with the other backs but showed that he had a hot hand and the staff went with him to the tune of 25 carries, 114 rushing yards and two scores.
Kelvin Taylor played well in garbage time and if Muschamp was concerned about style points or covering spreads, probably would have scored his first career touchdown at the end of the game.
3. Penalties are still an issue.
Officially, Florida was penalized 10 times for 70 yards on Saturday. Florida’s two holding penalties both occurred on the same drive in the fourth quarter and took the Gators out of the redzone, resulting in a missed 39-yard field goal from Austin Hardin. There were also five offsides penalties, something that the defensive line needs to clean up.
2. Jeff Driskel has made progress.
We saw Jeff Driskel look off defenders, buy some time in the pocket and go through his progressions more than he did in 2012. Driskel still has a long way to go as a quarterback but he is making strides in the right direction and you can definitely see progress.
1. Dominique Easley is going to be a first round draft pick.
He said that he came back because his mother wanted to see him earn a degree and graduate from Florida but that isn’t the only benefit Easley will get from coming back to school. Easley’s performance on Saturday was outstanding. Easley got on All-MAC center Zac Kerin so quick that the NFL prospect didn’t know what hit him. Easley was like the bully in high school who beat you up and then sat on you while he ate your lunch. He blew up running plays, he got after the quarterback and he was so disruptive that he set things up for the rest of his teammates.
If Easley plays — and dances — the rest of the season like he did on Saturday, he will be a very happy man when his name gets called by Roger Goodell at the 2014 NFL Draft.