Sunshine State rivals collide in week two of the 2013 college football season, as the 12th-ranked Florida Gators come calling on the Miami-Florida Hurricanes.
Will Muschamp's third season in Gainesville got off to a good start as the Gators opened the campaign with a 24-6 win over Toledo. The victory was the 24th straight in a season-opener for Florida, the longest active streak in the SEC and the second-longest in the nation (Nebraska - 28).
With postseason sanctions now behind them, Al Golden's Hurricanes have their sights set on an ACC title and BCS bowl bid. The team took a step in the right direction in last week's season-opener, blowing out Florida Atlantic, 34-6.
This is the first meeting between these two teams since 2008. A highly competitive series overall, Miami holds a narrow 28-26 lead all-time, thanks to wins in six of the last seven meetings. However, a six-game win streak for the Hurricanes came to a halt in 2008, as Florida posted a 26-3 rout in Gainesville, en route to the national title.
The Gators used a strong ground attack to distance themselves from the Rockets in the opener. Florida gained 262 yards rushing on a healthy 5.5 yards per attempt. Tailback Mack Brown led the charge with 112 yards, scoring two of the team's three touchdowns in the game. It was a needed performance as projected starting tailback Matt Jones was absent after missing fall camp with a viral infection. The team ran the ball 48 times in the game and as a result, had a +19:36 advantage in time of possession.
Second-year starting quarterback Jeff Driskel didn't have to win the game with his arm, but the 6-foot-4, 239-pounder was ultra-efficient, completing a career-high 77.3 percent of his passes (17-of-22), for 153 yards and one touchdown. Senior WR Trey Burton led all Florida receivers with five catches, for 69 yards.
Jones may suit up against Miami, something Driskel certainly hopes is the case.
"I don't really know what he's going through or what he's feeling, but he seems to be handling it well," Driskel said. "I know he's going to do everything he can to be at 100 percent. If he's close to 100 percent, I'll take that."
Team speed on the defensive side of the ball will once again favor Florida in most outings. The Gators overwhelmed the Rockets in the opener, limiting Toledo to a meager 205 yards of total offense, including just 50 yards rushing. The Rockets averaged a gaudy 445.2 yards of offense last season. Getting off the field took top priority and Florida excelled in that regard, allowing Toledo just 54 offensive plays and holding the Rockets to a mere 1- of-13 on third-down opportunities.
Junior DB Cody Riggs led the way for Florida with a team-high six tackles. Linebacker Mike Taylor was a close second with five stops. Junior lineman Leon Orr (four tackles) and junior LB Ronald Powell were each credited with a sack in the game. Senior DE Dominique Easley recorded three tackles, one TFL and three QB hurries in the game.
All-American candidate Loucheiz Purifoy (junior) was missing from the secondary after being suspended for the opener. The 6-1 junior will suit up for this one and should be a defensive leader going forward.
The Hurricanes will definitely test Florida's defense with a balanced attack. The team racked up a gaudy 503 yards of total offense against Florida Atlantic, including 303 yards rushing on 8.0 yards per carry.
Tailback Duke Johnson had a strong freshman campaign and brought with him plenty of excitement into 2013. He certainly didn't disappoint in the season- opener, churning out a career-high 186 yards and one TD on an eye-popping 9.8 yards per carry. Over his last five games, the multi-talented Johnson has amassed 1,227 all-purpose yards and eight touchdowns.
A devastating rushing attack will only aid quarterback Stephen Morris, who has shown the ability to win games with his arm in the past. He wasn't called on to do so against FAU, but he did complete 15-of-27 passes, for 160 yards and one TD.
The defensive numbers look good after one game, but the Hurricanes didn't exactly face a juggernaut in FAU, limiting the Owls to just 250 total yards, including just 117 yards passing. The team has a whole did record seven TFL and five sacks in the game.
Junior linebacker Denzel Perryman led the way with six total tackles. Four others tied for second with five stops, including junior defensive lineman Anthony Chickillo, who recorded one of the five sacks.
This is a game that will be played with great emotion, as both teams battle for bragging rights.
The significance of the game is not lost on Golden.
"It's obviously a big game, but worrying about anything on the outside is not going to change what happens in between the lines," said Golden. "The biggest thing for us is to focus on what we can control. Everything else that surrounds it, we have no impact on. We have an impact on how we prepare and what we have to do in between the lines on Saturday."