Toledo Preview

Florida kicks off the 2013 season against a solid MAC team in the Toledo Rockets.  Toledo returns five All-MAC players on the offensive side of the ball. Led by senior quarterback Terrance Owens, the Rockets have a balanced, spread out attack.  Owens is a similar style quarterback to Jeff Driskel in that he has a strong arm but is also a threat to take off out of the pocket and can hurt you with his mobility.

The next key player on the depth chart is running back David Fluellen.  Despite missing one game and portions of two more, he still amassed 1,498 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns on the ground last season.  He’s also an effective pass catcher out of the backfield, where he had 32 receptions for 246 yards in 2012.

Bernard Reedy leads a talented group of receivers that return the top six pass catchers from a year ago.  Reedy caught over 80 passes last year for over 1,100 yards.  He is also a dangerous KO returner.

Florida needs to take advantage of the Rocket defense.  15 players on the two-deep depth chart are either sophomores or freshmen.  All of that turnover might be a good thing for a defense that ranked 12th in the MAC in total defense after giving up over 473 yards per game last season.

Anyone who thinks Toledo will roll over for the Gators is mistaken.

The focus will be on the Gator offense, as it has to perform better than last season to help out the defense more, and also make Florida a more balanced overall team.  Despite all of the offseason hopes, a re-tooled OL and WR corps has to prove it can give Jeff Driskel the help he needs to improve as a passer.  With no qualified backup, he needs to stay upright this year, and can’t afford to take as many chances as a runner.  The likely absence of Matt Jones due to a lingering viral illness puts a lot of pressure on inexperienced Mack Brown, former walkon Mark Herndon, and freshmen Kelvin Taylor and Adam Lane to take up the slack by committee.   It will be interesting to see if the WR play finally improves after 2 years of basically nothing.  The 2 highly-touted freshman – Demarcus Robinson and Ahmad Fulwood – will play immediately.  Also, the loss of Jordan Reed at TE could force OC Brent Pease to scheme an attack that doesn’t have a significant contribution from there unless either Kent Taylor or Colin Thompson show early on they can contribute.  The latest bad news is that Chaz Green is out for the season due to surgery for a torn labrum.  Tyler Moore gets the chance to show he can play in the SEC, and Kyle Koehne gets even more reps now.  Not a good situation.

The defense will be talented, but the key losses at DT, LB, and S could be felt early until the new faces gain experience.  Toledo’s offense could pose some problems for the inexperienced and/or new guys like Tank Morrison and MikeTaylor at LB, and Jaylen Watkins and Cody Riggs at safety, who played mostly CB previously in their careers.  Ron Powell must show early on he has recovered from knee surgery and provide a pass rush threat from the OLB spot.  Dominique Easley must lead a young DL – he’ll have help from Dante Fowler and Jon Bullard at DE.  These guys must get penetration and pressure the QB without the need for too much blitzing.

I could see this game remaining competitive into the second half, as Florida will not want to show too much on offense (unless it becomes necessary), while the defense could struggle until it settles in.  This isn’t a glorified scrimmage, but could prove useful in gearing up for a huge game 2 vs. Miami.  As always, the mantra for game 1 is NO SERIOUS INJURIES.

Prediction:  Florida 31      Toledo 17