Milestone game for Brown

With tears in his eyes, redshirt junior Mack Brown ran out of the tunnel in The Swamp on Saturday as the starting running back for the Gators. Three years without an opportunity to produce can wear anyone down. For Brown, Saturday meant a chance to make a difference -- and he did just that. Brown carried the ball 25 times for 112 yards and two touchdowns in a game he'll never forget.

His 25 carries on Saturday matched his total number of carries during the 2012 season. He came into Saturday's game with 40 career carries.

"I feel like I was useless the past couple years," Mack Brown said. "Getting an opportunity, I took the best and ran with it."

By the time Florida's first drive of the game was over, Brown already had a new career high for rushing yards in a game, going for 39 yards and one touchdown to give the Gators their first touchdown on the first drive of the season since 2009. All of it came on just four hours of sleep after he tossed and turned through Friday night, anxious for the opportunity.

The first touchdown was special for Brown, but it wasn't the celebration that some players might enjoy.

"I got butterflies when I scored," Brown said, grinning ear-to-ear. "When I saw the hole open up, I hit it, did a little high step and gave the ball to the ref."

In a lot of ways, that's a perfect description of Brown. There wasn't a planned celebration. He didn't even care to keep the ball. Instead, he tossed it back to the referee, put his head back down -- trying to deflect attention like usual -- and headed back for the sideline.

The first three years in Gainesville haven't been about being in headlines or getting the glory for things on the field. Brown just wanted to win, and that's a big reason why he originally signed with Florida, a decision he still says he doesn't regret at all.

But there were always tough times. Brown always wanted more to happen for him on the field. He always wanted a bigger opportunity and just one chance to show what he can do with the ball.

"The last couple years, (I'd be) stressed out after the game and feel like a failure to my team," Brown said. "Making plays for the team feels good."

The coaches told him early in camp that they expected him to be the starter. Running back Matt Jones was fighting a viral infection and just returned to the practice field last week, and they needed an experienced back to carry the load.

The coaches showed in their conversations and tone that they had confidence in Brown to get the job done.

"You lose a lot of confidence over the years, not playing, and the last time starting was your senior year of high school," Brown said. "The coaches had more confidence than I had in myself. That just made me realize that I can do this."

The 25 carries -- with 17 of them coming in the first half -- were more than he expected. And truthfully, it was more than the coaches expected. They wanted to get Mark Herndon involved earlier and run more plays in the package set up for Valdez Showers, but instead, they leaned on Brown.

"He earned it," Will Muschamp said. "We got in there and talked on the headsets a little bit, and Brent (Pease) and Brian (White) felt like he was running well and running hard. He was running well, and we wanted to stick with him."

With all the possible highlights that happened, Brown's favorite play is one most fans didn't even realize. He said it came on his cut block that allowed quarterback Jeff Driskel time to hit fullback Gideon Ajagbe for a touchdown in the red zone.

That's the kid of player and person Brown is -- one that hasn't cared about success or personal stats. He wanted to be a part of a winning team, and on Saturday, he did multiple things to help his team do that in the season opener.

And it's the same attitude he'll carry into next week. Matt Jones is expected to return against Miami, meaning Brown could be destined for a backup role again. If that's the way it goes and he's back to limited carries, he said he'll keep working hard and wait for his opportunity to come -- again.

"You know what, we need him back," Brown said of Jones. "We need a lot of backs during the season. I can't wait to see Matt Jones back."

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