Gators notebook: Kadarius Toney continues to do it all against Tennessee Vols

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
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Despite Kyle Trask’s 251 passing yards and two touchdowns, Florida’s offense wasn’t necessarily executing efficiently in the first half of Saturday’s 31-19 win over Tennessee – regardless, Kadarius Toney made the most of his opportunities. 

Toney had 89 receiving yards on six receptions in the first half, giving the senior wide receiver more yards than Tennessee freshman quarterback Harrison Bailey had passing yards. 

And, after approaching 200 all-purpose yards against Kentucky, Toney once again found multiple ways to be effective for the Gators. 

The Eight Mile, Alabama, native had seven of UF’s 12 rushing yards in the first half, and his touchdown reception to put Florida up 17-7 saw Toney get open thanks to some crafty pre-snap misdirection in the backfield. 

Florida's Kadarius Toney runs in the open field Saturday against Tennessee at Neyland Stadium in Knoxville, Tenn.

Once again, the Gators showed the offense is more than simply the Kyle-to-Kyle connection as Saturday’s first half was Toney’s time to shine. He’d finish the game with a game-high eight receptions on nine targets for 108 yards and a touchdown, giving Toney 10 touchdown receptions on the season.

Johnson getting notice

Outside of the program, Florida offensive coordinator Brian Johnson hasn’t received much credit for UF’s offensive success this season — but that may be changing. 

Johnson has interviewed for South Carolina’s vacant head coaching job, according to a report by The site reports Johnson has met with USC athletics director Ray Tanner, although he’s not believed to currently be one of the top candidates for the position.

Johnson is in the midst of his sixth season with Mullen, and he was asked prior to UF’s victory at Vanderbilt if he’d be interested in a head coaching gig if the opportunity were to arise. 

"All that stuff is really flattering, but obviously you’ve got a job to do,” Johnson said, “and our focus is on getting ready to play Vanderbilt and go out there and continue to play well on offense and play at a really high level."

Following Florida’s performance against the Volunteers, which saw the Gators register 433 passing yards, Mullen was asked about Johnson garnering interest for the role, and he responded quickly with a vote of confidence for his entire coaching staff rather than individual praise for Johnson. 

"I'm happy all our guys to get opportunities. I do think we have a very underrated coaching staff. I've said that a lot. People look and say, ‘hey, I get a lot of credit’ and I probably get too much credit,” Mullen said. “We have a bunch of guys on our staff I think that would make great head coaches. And it's great to see.”

Considering it was far from the first time one of Mullen’s assistants had interviewed for a head coaching gig, he knows it likely won’t be the last. 

“Know we've had some guys through the years with John Hevesy and Billy Gonzales and Brian get interviews. I have some former coaches in Manny Diaz, that's now a head coach at Miami, even though he didn't come directly from us,” Mullen said. “I think our coaches would do an awesome job. I'd love to see guys like Todd Grantham to get opportunities to go be a head coach. With Brian, with all our guys, that's what everybody wants and their dreams. I think programs would be really pleased if they gave those guys an opportunity to go show what they can do." 

Dean steps up in Davis’ place

Florida’s list of unavailable players against Tennessee included the notable addition of a starting defensive back. 

The Gators announced starting safety Shawn Davis would be unavailable for Saturday’s contest for undisclosed reasons. 

In addition to Davis, the Gators once again ruled out BUCK linebacker Jeremiah Moon, David Reese, Kahleil Jackson, Ethan Pouncey, Lamar Goods, Hayden Knighton, Jaelin Humphries, Trent Whittemore and Lucas Alonso. 

With Davis sidelined, junior defensive back Trey Dean saw extended action in the secondary, and he didn’t let the opportunity slip by. Dean finished the game with a season-high eight tackles — six of them solo wrap-ups – a sack and a tackle-for-loss. 

Post-game, Mullen said Dean’s prior designation as a starter during his freshman season meant he’d be more than up for the task, even if he’d been resigned to a lesser role throughout the week of practice.

“We talk to all our guys, and to say that you’re down to your third-string safety, we like to roll guys in and we play a lot of players. You come in and late in the week you lose Shawn Davis, and then third play of the game you lose Rashad Torrence. When you get there, there is no more rotation. Part of it, I’m wondering what’s next? The next guy in the game was probably taking all scout team reps the week before, the whole week,” Mullen said. “I think Trey Dean, I guess that’s the benefit of having multiple guys as starters. What we do there we start to lose the depth when we get down and get knocked down that way. A guy like Trey Dean, we have a lot of confidence in. He’s played a lot of football. He’s an experienced guy and he would normally rotate in a bunch. I guess calling him a third-string guy is probably a pretty inappropriate thing to do.”

Freshman WR also does

Florida wide receiver Xzavier Henderson continued his impressive inaugural collegiate season Saturday against the Volunteers. 

The Miami native hauled in both passes thrown his way, finishing the day with 27 receiving yards. Both receptions went for first downs, too, as UF accrued 452 yards of offense. While his numbers seem paltry when put next to those of Toney and Pitts, Henderson being able to crack UF’s deep wide receiver unit should say it all about his career potential with the Gators. 

Pitts enters elite company

Kyle Pitts’ 128 receiving yards against Tennessee marked his third career 100-yard performance, making him one of just three Gators tight ends to accomplish the feat. He also became the third UF tight end to have multiple 100-yard games in one season.

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