GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida’s Kadarius Toney dove for the ball in the end zone in the fourth quarter, had it firmly in his grasp and then watched as the ball flew out of his hands as he slammed into the ground.
After getting up following a desperate attempt to regain possession of the ball, the freshman receiver punched the air in frustration with the first potential big play of his collegiate career slipping through his fingertips.
Even with that drop, though, Toney had an impressive home debut during the Gators’ last-second 26-20 win over No. 23 Tennessee on Saturday.
The electric freshman had 4 catches for 40 yards in the win and dropped a diving 30-yard catch in the end zone in the fourth quarter. This came a game after he caught 2 passes for 27 yards in limited playing time against Michigan in Florida’s season opener on Sept. 2. He dances his way past defenders and finds ways to make noise in open space.
In short, when Toney has the ball in his hands, there’s a chance for a big play.
“You all saw it today,” wide receiver Brandon Powell said, “they couldn’t tackle him at all. And he’ll do the same thing in practice. It doesn’t surprise us. “It’s just a matter of time. He got his chance today and made two people miss in the open field. That’s what he always does.”
RELATED: Feleipe Franks and Tyrie Cleveland reflect on epic game-winning touchdown | Gators didn’t solve all their woes, but they got the win they needed | Defense carries Gators through first three quarters vs. Tennessee | SEC Country’s top photos from Florida’s last-second win over Tennessee | Jim McElwain provides injury update after the game
McElwain praised Toney, an early enrollee, during spring and in fall camp for his versatility and ability to make a big play.
Toney started off taking reps exclusively at quarterback in the spring due to the lack of depth — starter Feleipe Franks and redshirt freshman Kyle Track were the only healthy scholarship players at the position at that time. He has since transitioned to slot receiver, but has the ability to work out of Wildcat type packages similar to junior college transfer Dre Massey.
“Well you know, there’s something that’s pretty cool about having a human joystick out there,” Florida coach Jim McElwain said after the game. But he’s gotta still learn and learn how to play and do some things but obviously as we talked during the week, he was guy we felt needed to get touches. He’s an electric guy, man.”
As the Gators went through fall camp and prepared to start the 2017 season, coach Jim McElwain brought up a “get-it-to” list, a sampling of the players he was hoping could have a breakout season or be used in ways that
That list was essentially non-existant during Florida’s season-opening loss to Michigan, one in which the Gators mustered just 192 yards of offense.
Toney’s performance on Saturday gave him the opportunity to make his way up that list.
“He’s an athlete,” center T.J. McCoy said. “Whenever you give that man the ball, he’s going to make people miss and he’s going to make a play.”