No doubt Florida’s offense has struggled. As I wrote Wednesday, it has chronically struggled since Tim Tebow left the Gainesville campus in 2009. This season, the Gators offense slogged through one full game and three quarters of the second before finally scoring a touchdown in the 26-20 win last Saturday over Tennessee.
Don’t be fooled, however, into thinking Florida is without any dangerous players on offense.
One to watch Saturday when the Gators visit Kentucky: Kadarius Toney.
The 5-foot-11, 194-pound true freshman from Eight Mile, Alabama has shown electrifying potential in bits and pieces during short stints of Florida’s first two games. He has the look of a future star and then some.
Toney played quarterback at Blount High School where he threw for 32 touchdowns and rushed for 15 more before signing as an “athlete” with the Gators. After enrolling early at UF, he played quarterback in the Gators’ spring game, carrying the ball five times for 74 yards. When fall camp began, however, Florida offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier convinced Toney to move to wide receiver.
He caught two passes for 27 yards in Florida’s 33-17 loss to Michigan at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.
Then last week, at home against Tennessee, early second quarter, Toney took a short pass from quarterback Feleipe Franks and made a sharp move that reduced Tennessee’s Emmanuel Moseley into grasping for air as the cornerback did a full-stop as if he had suffered a broken ankle. The play gained 19 yards.
The next snap, Toney lined up in the wildcat and gained five yards. After that, the freshman caught another short pass, made a defender miss and turned a third-and-six into a first down with a nine-yard gain.
“A human joystick,” is what Florida coach Jim McElwain has called Toney.
“He’s fast,” said Kentucky defensive coordinator Matt House on Wednesday. “Really fast and they do a good job getting him the ball in open spaces whether it be a screen, jets. They had him at wildcat quarterback. They do a good job of trying to get him the ball. He’s a good player.”
Toney ended up catching four passes for 40 yards to go along with those five rushing yards as Florida improved to 1-0 in the SEC.
Edgar Thompson of the Orlando Sentinel wrote, “Toney juked, ducked and wiggled his way to 45 yards on some of the more exciting touches in some time by a UF player in the Swamp. The performance inspired comparisons on social media to Percy Harvin, the UF All-America game-breaker for two national champions.”
“The sky is the limit for him,” receiver Tyrie Cleveland told Phillip Heilman of the Florida Times-Union. “As [soon as] he came in during summer, I knew right then he was going to be a big part of our offense, whatever position he plays.”
Even without the suspended Antonio Callaway, last year’s leading receiver, Florida owns skilled targets in Tyrie Cleveland, who caught the 63-yard touchdown pass on the final play that beat Tennessee, Josh Hammond and veteran Brandon Powell.
Toney’s quickness and elusiveness adds an extra dimension, however, and there is little doubt that as the season progresses McElwain will get the freshman more involved in the offense.
That includes Saturday night against Kentucky.
Florida individual stats
FLORIDA AT KENTUCKY
When: Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where: Kroger Field in Lexington
TV: SEC Network with Tom Hart, Jordan Rodgers and Cole Cubelic
Radio: UK Network with Tom Leach, Jeff Piecoro and Dick Gabriel