GAINESVILLE _ When Mack Brown stood inside the tunnel before Florida’s 24-6 win against Toledo that opened the season, he could feel tears welling up in his eyes as he nervously moved side by side.
It had been a long, difficult wait to get here. The redshirt junior had 40 career carries watching one future NFL player after another start in front of him at tailback. Last year it was 1,000-yard rusher Mike Gillislee. And even Saturday, Matt Jones was supposed to be in front of him but missed the game with a viral infection.
So finally, it came down to Brown.
“I had tears in my eyes,’’ he said of finally getting a chance. “I felt like I was useless the last couple of years.’’
Brown carried the ball nine times in the first quarter, eight more in the second. Piling up 97 yards and touchdowns of a yard and 14, it was 17-3 at the break. He went over 100 yards for the first time in his career on his first carry in the third quarter.
“Mack is a guy who is talented,’’ Florida coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s played behind some great guys here and nothing shocks me of what he did today. I was expecting him to run hard and he did.’’
In fact, Brown played so well Muschamp decided to keep giving him the ball _ finishing with 112 yards on 25 attempts. He confessed being pretty winded by halftime. But it was a happy kind of exhaustion.
“We all have a great trust in him,’’ said Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel, who completed 17 of 22 passes for 153 yards and a touchdown for the game’s final score in the third quarter of four yards to backup fullback Gideon Ajagbe.
Toledo’s only scores came on a pair of field goals from 44 and 23 yards by Jeremiah Detmer.
“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.’’
UF had some old 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,’’ 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.
Florida announced prior to the kick off that standout defensive back Loucheiz Purifoy, receiver Latroy Pittman, defensive back Darious Cummings and offensive lineman Quinteze Williams have been suspended for violation of team rules.
Linebacker Antonio Morrison was also suspended from the first game earlier for off season issues. All but Pittman will be back for the Miami game next week. He will miss two more games.
Along with injuries to starting offensive linemen Jon Halapio (torn pectoral) and Chaz Green (torn labrum, out for season) and Matt Jones (viral infection) the Gators start 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 five yards 38 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 in six games 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 and 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 on a 45-yard field goal by Jeremiah Detmer to end the shut out 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.