Here's a surprise: Florida's defense is still terrific and good enough to keep the Gators in contention for an SEC title. In a season-opening 24-6 victory over Toledo Saturday, the defense held the Rockets to a minimal 50 rushing yards and 205 total.
The Gators replaced six defensive starters during the offseason but emphatically answered questions about the strength of the unit.
The defensive line swallowed up running back David Fluellen, holding last year's 1,400-yard rusher to 46 yards on nine carries. Senior wide receiver Bernard Reedy, the same player who said the Gators could be worn down, had 50 yards on seven receptions. Quarterback Terrance Owens completed only 17 of 38 passes and threw for 155 yards and an interception.
Dominique Easley looked like a man-child at defensive tackle, consistently overpowering his man and making plays in the backfield. Defensive endlined up all over the line throughout the game and also got pressure to force a few poorly timed passes.
nd was the first Florida player to pick up a sack this season.
Another defender who came up big was true freshman cornerback Vernon Hargreaves III. He made a nice break on the ball in the third quarter and came away with an interception. He's a polished corner who will see plenty of playing time, especially if he can continue to make game-changing plays.
Will the Gators defense be better than last years?
Overall, it was an impressive performance against an offense that averaged 445 yards last season. This unit is a lot younger, and many expected it would take time for them to come together and begin playing as well as last year. However, it was hard to tell the difference between 2012's defense and this year's unit. Florida was aggressive, quick to the ball and held an explosive offense to two field goals.
The offense showed bright spots throughout the game as well. The offensive line provided plenty of time for quarterback Jeff Driskel and opened up gaping running lanes for Mack Brown, who finished the game with 112 yards and two touchdowns. But the defense was far more consistent, holding Toledo to only 12 first downs and setting the tone throughout the game.
Next week's matchup against Miami will be a tougher task, but it's quite clear Florida still has one of the most talented defenses in the country.
Watch out, SEC.