LEXINGTON, Ky. — It’s pretty much confirmed now: Florida’s biggest playmaker on offense at this early stage of the season is true freshman wide receiver Kadarius Toney.
Toney, who showed flashes as a potential home-run hitter against Tennessee, knocked one out of the park Saturday night against Kentucky, lining up as the wildcat quarterback and weaving his way through the Wildcats’ defense for a 36-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter.
Toney also nearly broke a long one earlier in the game, when he cut back across the field on a screen pass and gained 19 yards.
Thanks to Toney’s TD run, and some push by the Florida offensive line, the Gators rushed for 101 yards in the first half against the nation’s No. 3 run defense. Coming into the game, the Wildcats were giving up a mere 57 yards a game on the ground.
The lonesome end
In what had to be the biggest oversight of the night, Kentucky’s secondary failed to line anyone up on wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland on a fourth-and-three play late in the second quarter.
Lined up wide with no one near him, Cleveland frantically waved to quarterback Feleipe Franks before the snap. Franks saw him, lobbed the ball in the right flat and Cleveland caught it and turned it into a game-tying 45-yard TD reception.
Starting outside linebacker Vosean Joseph was ejected for targeting for his helmet-to-helmet hit on UK quarterback Stephen Johnson late in the first half.
On the same play, the defense was also called for a second personal foul penalty. The overall 30-yard penalty moved the ball to the UF 42-yard line.
But Wildcats failed to take advantage of the scoring opportunity that could have given them the halftime lead. Following back-to-back sacks by defensive end Cece Jefferson, UK place-kicker Austin MacGinnis clanged a 48-yard field goal attempt off the right upright with 16 seconds left.
Dawson good to go
UF announced about two hours before kickoff that senior starting cornerback Duke Dawson had been cleared to play in Saturday night’s game.
Dawson started the game and was beaten on a fade route by wide receiver Garrett Johnson for a touchdown in the second quarter that gave UK a 14-7 lead.
Dawson sustained a concussion in the second half against Tennessee a week earlier and had been under concussion protocol all week.
Had Dawson not been granted medical clearance, the Gators would have started two true freshmen at cornerback — Marco Wilson and CJ Henderson. Dawson has started all three games this season, while Henderson came off the bench to return an interception for a touchdown in each of the first two games.
Florida’s youth movement is reflected in the travel roster for Saturday’s game. Of the 70 on the roster, 16 were true freshmen — six on offense and 10 on defense.
The 16 freshmen making their first SEC road trip were: quarterback Jake Allen, running back Malik Davis, wide receiver Kadarius Toney, wide receiver Daquon Green, tight end Kemore Gamble, offensive tackle T.J. Moore, defensive tackle Kyree Campbell, defensive tackle Tedarrell Slaton, defensive tackle Elijah Conliffe, defensive end Zach Carter, linebacker Lacetrick Brunson, safety Brad Steward, cornerback Marco Wilson, cornerback CJ Henderson, safety Donovan Stiner and safety Shawn Davis.
The Gators played 12 true freshmen in the first two games of the season.
‘Cats remember 45-7
There is no doubt that the Wildcats had revenge on their minds — just not Saturday night but for the entire week.
Throughout the week, a replay of last year’s 45-7 Gator rout in The Swamp played over and over in the locker room and around the football facility.
Amazingly, the Wildcats rebounded from that game and turned their 2016 season around, winning seven of their last 10 games, including a big win on the road against arch-rival Louisville, to become bowl eligible.
Heading into Saturday’s game, UK was 10-3 over the last 13 regular-season games.
This and that
UK fans were certainly excited about the matchup with the Gators. They sold out the stadium for the first time since Oct. 10, 2015, against Auburn. … The Wildcats were trying to move to 4-0 to start the season, the first time since 2008. … UK came into Saturday’s game ranked No. 3 in the nation in rushing defense, giving up only 57.0 yards a game on the ground. … The Wildcats have 14 players on their roster from Florida. The Gators have only one player from Kentucky, safety Garrett Stephens, a walk-on from Louisville. … UK wide receivers coach Lamar Thomas is a Gainesville native and former Buchholz High School standout. Thomas played his college ball at Miami, where he was teammates with UF defensive coordinator Randy Shannon. UK coach Mark Stoops was the defensive backs coach for Shannon in 2001-03 when Shannon was the head coach at Miami. … UK place-kicker Austin MacGinnis came into Saturday’s game needing just 23 points to become the school’s all-time leading scorer. … CJ Henderson is the only true freshman in UF history to have pick-sixes in back-to-back games. He is the only Gator to accomplish that feat in records dating back to 1965. … Notre Dame has the nation’s longest winning streak against opponent in consecutive years. The Irish have beaten Navy 43 consecutive times (1964-2006).