GAINESVILLE -- Mack Brown couldn’t sleep Friday night.
He had tears streaming down his eyes as he walked out of the tunnel early Saturday afternoon.
Finally, the butterflies went away when the redshirt junior scored the first touchdown of his career.
It turns out, no Matt Jones was no problem for No. 10 Florida.
The Gators, playing without five starters because of injuries and suspensions, rolled past Toledo 24-6 behind Brown’s red-letter day at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.
Brown — making the start because of Jones’ continued recovery from a serious viral infection — rushed for a career-high 114 yards and two touchdowns.
“I feel like I’ve got to roll now,” Brown said. “The last couple years, I’d be stressed out after the game, feel like you failed your team. But making plays feels great.”
The tailback, who has patiently waited his turn, finally made the most of his chances.
“Mack is talented. He just needed an opportunity to play,” coach Will Muschamp said. “He’s played behind some good players here. Nothing shocks me what he did [Saturday].”
Florida won its 24th consecutive season opener — the latest on a hot and muggy afternoon in front of an announced crowd of 83,604.
The Gators outgained the Rockets 415-205 in total yards, and Florida scored on its season-opening drive for the first time since 2009.
Brown propelled an efficient 11-play, 84-yard march, capped by his 1-yard touchdown plunge.
“I saw the hole open up, I just hit it,” Brown said. “Did a little high-step and gave the ball to the ref. Before the game, I told Coach I was going to take my helmet off, but he said if I do that I’m not going to see the field again.”
UF’s offense was hardly explosive Saturday, but junior quarterback Jeff Driskel was sharp, starting the day 7 of 7 for 61 yards. Driskel overcame two fumbles — one in each half — and finished the day 17 of 22 for 153 yards and one touchdown pass.
Florida’s defense played without star cornerback Loucheiz Purifoy, suspended for an unspecified rules violation, and starting middle linebacker Antonio Morrison, but Muschamp’s baby didn’t miss a beat.
Without its top two players and five NFL draft picks from the 2012 group, UF allowed just 205 total yards, six points and one third-down conversion (1 of 13).
“We’ve been good everywhere we’ve been,” Muschamp said. “We’re not going to make excuses at Florida for sickness, injury, suspensions, whatever the situation may be. That’s why you recruit and have a deep roster.”
A total of five players — including Morrison and Purifoy — sat out Saturday’s game because of violations of team rules. Latroy Pittman, Quinteze Williams and Darious Cummings also watched from the sideline, but freshman Jay-nard Bostwick was not suspended despite multiple media outlets reporting he was. Muschamp lashed out at the website Gatorcountry.com, The Gainesville Sun and The Palm Beach Post for incorrectly reporting the suspension of the freshman defensive tackle.
“When you take a shot at a kid and it’s inaccurate and it’s written inaccurately, I’ve got a problem,” a steamed Muschamp said. “I can be accused of a lot of things, being over-protective of our players for accurate information. I am really pissed off and it’s wrong.”
Defensive linemen Dominique Easley and Ronald Powell dominated the line of scrimmage, as the Gators constantly pressured Rockets quarterback Terrence Owens into quick, rushed throws. Easley blew up a fourth-and-short in the second quarter, and Powell played like a gangbuster in his first game since missing all of last season with an ACL injury.
The duo combined for two tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries.
“That’s what Florida is about: speed and power,” Easley said. “The young guys have learned from the older guys so there’s no step back.”
The Gators were sluggish in the second half, as the offense stagnated and the defense was bothered a bit by Toledo’s pace.
“It was disappointing to go three-and-out two consecutive series coming out,” Muschamp said. “It was something we’ve actually worked on in the stadium twice in camp — coming into the locker room and going back into the heat and being able to play fast, and we didn’t do that.”
Ultimately, the Rockets didn’t have the manpower to seriously challenge the Gators.
That won’t be the case with the Gators’ upcoming opponent next Saturday, when UF faces in-state rival Miami at Sun Life Stadium.