By Zach Abolverdi, Correspondent
Florida wide receiver Kadarius Toney has become the wild card in Dan Mullen’s offense, and the first-year coach showed his hand once again Saturday.
Toney had 84 yards of total offense in the Gators’ 35-31 win over South Carolina, rushing for a season-high 51 yards on four carries and catching a pair of passes for 33 yards and a touchdown.
This performance comes on the heels of Toney’s career-high 95 total yards against Missouri. And with his numbers against the Gamecocks, he has now surpassed his rushing and receiving stats for 2017.
“That comes from preparation and putting faith in Coach Mullen to get the ball in my hands whenever he can,” Toney said. “It feels good to execute the plays that he’s drawing up to help the team.”
Saturday was only Toney’s second time this season with four carries in a game, and he has only caught four passes once in 2018 (against Vanderbilt). Mullen acknowledged that he needs to do a better job of getting Toney more touches.
“When he touches the ball, really exciting things happen,” Mullen said of Toney after the game. “I haven’t done a good job offensively, in forcing us to just put the ball in his hands. About half the time he touches the ball the play doesn’t look anything like we designed it to look at in practice, but exciting things certainly happen. We’ll try to continue to do that and make sure he gets touches.”
Toney also took on punt return duties Saturday because of Freddie Swain’s injury. He muffed a punt in the third quarter and South Carolina recovered, scoring a field goal off the turnover. The Gamecocks had a touchdown drive on their next possession and went up 31-14 with less than 20 minutes left in the game.
“I always play with a chip on my shoulder and that just made the chip even bigger. So it just made me go harder,” Toney said of the muffed punt. “I was mad, but I didn’t let that overwhelm me. … My mentality is, if I do something bad, give me the ball again, I’m going to show you what I can really do.
“That was just an error. Everybody makes errors, but how you bounce back is really what makes a person and makes their character.”
Toney redeemed himself after South Carolina took a 17-point lead. The Gators drove into the red zone on the ensuing series and called his number on second-and-7. Toney caught a screen pass and evaded three defenders on his way to the end zone for an 18-yard score, his first receiving touchdown of the season.
That’s his favorite thing to do on offense.
“A screen play,” Toney said, “because I know I’m getting the ball for sure.”
He also touches it in the wildcat formation, but the former high school quarterback doesn’t care for that package.
“Nah, not really. It’s all right,” Toney said. “I moved away from quarterback, so it’s like going backward. … I can do that, but it’s not my main game. My main thing I do is receiving.”
Toney said he gets “a lot” of tweets from fans who want to see him play more wildcat and get reps at quarterback. The injury to backup quarterback Kyle Trask only led to more lobbying.
“That’s all I see on social media. I just ignore it,” Toney said. “But if Dan Mullen wants me to get in the wildcat more, I’ll get in there. … I know everybody just hesitates for me to get back in the shotgun. It’s kind of fun though, just to give the people what they want.”
Toney lined up in the wildcat three times Saturday and attempted a trick play on Florida’s go-ahead touchdown drive, but the Gators couldn’t execute it. However, he put the offense in scoring position on that series with his 33-yard run on a reverse.
“We lined up in the same formation … and right when they were trying to clutter the spot, we hit them on the other end,” Toney said. “I saw it developing, honestly, when we kept pounding and pounding. We got closer to the end zone and they threw like their whole team over there almost. I kind of figured it was going to come soon enough.”
Given his play the last two weeks, Toney’s role will likely expand to take advantage of his elusiveness and play-making ability. That excitement is needed for an offense trying to become fun again.
“That’s a different type of guy,” running back Lamical Perine said of Toney. “They’ll have a run that’s supposed to go left and he’ll cut it back all the way to the right and score. So you never know what to expect with Kadarius. He’s a talented, good kid, man. He’s done a lot for this program and he’s going to keep doing that.”