GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Kadarius Toney lined up in the shotgun against Kentucky and took the direct snap.
Florida needed a boost early in the second quarter against the Wildcats after going down 7-0 early. The speedy freshman delivered.
Toney, referred to as a “human joystick” by coach Jim McElwain, shook past defenders and raced 36 yards into the end zone to tie the game. It broke Florida’s eight-game stretch without a rushing touchdown. Toney also would throw a 50-yard pass in the fourth quarter and catch 4 passes for 35 yards in the 28-27 win.
Later in the second quarter, wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland stood on the right side of the field on fourth down against Kentucky on Saturday and saw an open field.
The sophomore waved down Feleipe Franks, who lobbed a ball down the field as if Cleveland was getting ready to make a slam dunk.
Cleveland caught the pass with ease and ran more than 20 yards untouched before stiff-arming Kentucky cornerback Derrick Baity and barreling his way into the end zone to tie the game at 14-14. The 45-yard touchdown was 1 of 4 catches for Cleveland, who finished with a game-high 110 receiving yards.
With each passing week, Toney and Cleveland are building their way to more involved roles with the offense and are showing their prowess as playmakers.
It has been needed from the start since star wide receiver Antonio Callaway has been suspended from the team for close to six weeks now along with eight other players while the University Police Department underwent an investigation into alleged credit card fraud. That investigation concluded Monday, with the department recommending third-degree felony charges for all nine players.
It’s unclear when — or if — any of the players will return this season.
In the interim, the players who are on the team have stepped up in the absence of those who are suspended.
Cleveland and Toney are the prime examples.
Cleveland leads the team with 259 receiving yards and a pair of touchdowns. His 19.92 yards per catch ranks 15th nationally and third in the SEC among players with at least 10 catches. He is quickly establishing himself as the Gators’ new No. 1 receiver.
As for Toney, the electric quarterback-turned-wide receiver is finally easing in to playing a new position at the college level.
Through his first three games, Toney is second on the team with 102 receiving yards and also has 44 rushing yards on 3 carries and that 50-yard pass to Cleveland in the fourth quarter against Kentucky. He’s a budding playmaker and provides the shifty, versatile, make-a-play-after-the-catch type of production that was seen from Callaway during his first two seasons.
From a football standpoint, would the Gators want to have Callaway on the field? Absolutely. He’s a home-run threat whenever he touches the ball and his presence alone opens up options for the rest of the skill position players.
But is it worth the inevitability of having his off-the-field issues create a cloud of doubt around the team seemingly every time he gets back into the good graces of his teammates and the coaching staff? No. It’s not.
Toney and Cleveland can make the plays that were expected from Callaway.
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