Once again, CJ Henderson turned an interception into six points. Kadarius Toney displayed the athleticism in the open field that has had fans chanting his name. And Malik Davis’ 72-yard run could have padded a UF lead in the fourth quarter of a 26-20 win over Tennessee on Saturday.
In short, Florida has already relied heavily on freshmen, and it seems inevitable their roles will continue to expand as the season progresses.
Henderson signed with the Gators over Miami on National Signing Day, but his play in Florida’s first two games has resembled that of an experienced upperclassman rather than an 18-year-old freshman. Tasked with defending Tennessee wide receiver Marquez Callaway, Henderson simply put himself in the right position to make a play on a tipped ball. The Miami native jogged untouched into the end zone for the first touchdown at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium this season and his second in just two collegiate appearances.
“I was just in the right place in the right time,” Henderson said. “I really think it’s coach (Randy) Shannon. He really simplifies it for us and makes it real easy for all the players. And we just go out there and play fast.”
For Toney’s part, the dynamic freshman had four receptions for 40 yards in his home debut, with much of his yardage coming after the catch. Florida’s offense put Toney in a position to make plays, which didn’t come as a surprise to the Gators who routinely see Toney’s dazzling speed and agility in practice.
“You all saw it today, they couldn’t tackle him at all,” senior wide receiver Brandon Powell said. “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.”
And Davis’ fourth-quarter run displayed the big-play ability the Gators offense has consistently needed, even if the end result gave the ball back to the Volunteers. Part of a three-horse race at running back due to Jordan Scarlett’s suspension, Davis also broke free for a 16-yard run early in the first quarter that led to a 41-yard field goal for Eddy Pineiro.
After the game, Gators coach Jim McElwain emphasized UF will need to continue improving on offense rather than relying on last-second heroics to defeat conference rivals. “Obviously, it was not pretty,” McElwain said. “We’ve got work to do.”
But if McElwain is looking to take some weight off of quarterback Feleipe Franks’ plate, Saturday’s victory showed the freshmen deserve to be fed first.
Who: No. 20 Florida (1-1, 1-0 SEC) vs. Kentucky (3-0, 1-0)
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Commonwealth Stadium, Lexington, Ky.
TV: SEC Network
Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850