On an offense that has been in an almost desperate search for playmakers in recent years, two true freshmen have already started to emerge in that potential role this season for Florida.
But, as we saw in Saturday’s win over Tennessee, it’s likely going to take more time and playing experience before the full emergence occurs for tailback Malik Davis and wide receiver Kadarius Toney.
“(With) some of these young guys, (it’s about) expanding their roles as they continue to learn,” UF coach Jim McElwain said.
Davis and Toney gave a glimpse of promising things to come in the Gators’ 26-20 win at The Swamp. At the same time, they made some mistakes that they can learn from.
Davis had what appeared to be a 74-yard touchdown run through the UT defense in the fourth quarter, but he was stripped just before breaking the plane and the ball rolled out of the back of the end zone for a touchback. He did not return to the game, but led the Gators in rushing with 94 yards on four carries.
Toney, a former dual-threat quarterback who made the move to wide receiver in August, made some things happen Saturday with his quick cutting ability and elusiveness with the ball in his hands. He caught four passes for 40 yards and rushed for five yards on one carry. He also dropped a potential touchdown pass. It would have been a tough catch, but he had his hands on the ball.
There are more learning experiences ahead for Davis and Toney this season. There also will be opportunities to make more plays.
Davis seems to bring the home-run threat that’s been missing in the running game.
“He brings a little juice, there’s no doubt,” McElwain said. “He’s a little bit different. He’s a slasher. He does a really good job of sticking his foot in the ground and running through inside arm tackles.
“And no one felt worse after the game than he did (because of his fumble), and yet he’ll learn from it. It’s good to have (his ability), especially where we’re at (with) that position.”
Davis likely will make more mistakes, but it’s a natural part of the process that talented young players go through.
“Malik, he’s a great running back, a freshman,” redshirt freshman quarterback Feleipe Franks said. “You have little mistakes here and there, it’s part of the game. You know, quarterback’s going to throw interceptions, running backs might fumble here and there, you might get a holding call here and there. It’s part of the football game, it’s why you play.”
Toney certainly appears to have a passion for the game — and a propensity for breaking ankles with his lightning-quick cutting ability. He left several UT defensive backs sprawled on the turf after making moves on them.
UF linebacker David Reese said he’s not only seen that before, he’s experienced it.
“Kadarius, he’s so shaky,” Reese said. “As you can see, he’s like a little joystick out there. He’s slippery, people slip and slide on the field. He brings excitement to the game. When he gets the ball it’s just a nail-biter every time.
“The first time I realized it, I’ll never forget it. We had a scrimmage and he caught a crosser and I didn’t think he saw me, so I’m coming with a full head of steam. He like stopped on a dime and ducked his head like he did in the game Saturday. Same move. That’s when he got me. I’m like, ‘OK this kid, he might be something special.’ ”
The fans would clearly like to see more Toney, and they likely will. But the coaches need to make sure they don’t put too much on him too soon, McElwain said.
“Yeah, I think in his case, learning a new position, you overload guys and then they paralyze themselves,” McElwain said. “So, we do it bit by bit. What’s helped him actually is playing the quarterback position, because understanding where all that comes from has been good for him; the technical aspect of it, because he’s never been able to see it. He’ll continue to learn. As he does that, that part keeps coming.”
It is a process that is going to take time, but it’s obvious the emergence of Toney and Davis has begun.
Contact Robbie Andreu at 352-374-5022 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Also check out Andreu’s blog at Gatorsports.com.