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Florida's Toney continues impressive run against top-ranked Alabama

Graham Hall
Gainesville Sun
Florida receiver Kadarius Toney makes a catch at the goal line Saturday against Alabama during the SEC Championship Game at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta. Toney finished the game with eight receptions for 153 yards.

ATLANTA — Florida senior wide receiver Kadarius Toney, like many Gators, left it all on the field in Atlanta and likely converted any remaining non-believers in the wake. 

In what may go down as his penultimate performance with the Gators, Toney led Florida’s high-powered passing offense with 153 receiving yards on a team-high eight receptions in UF’s one-possession loss to No. 1-ranked Alabama, marking some of the final meaningful moments of his time at UF. 

Toney got the scoring started for the Gators on a 51-yard reception on the offense’s sixth play from scrimmage, scoring on a go route that more than anything signified his progression as a wide receiver since arriving at Florida with dreams of being the next great UF quarterback. Toney finished with eight receptions for 153 yards.

“His work ethic, his competitive nature, his desire to be great. That shows out there in everything. He's a great route runner, got tremendous hands, has learned to have a great feel for the game on how to get open,” UF coach Dan Mullen said of Toney. “You can hand it to him out of the backfield. Heck, he's got an unbelievable arm, could go line him up as quarterback. He has a very, very bright future ahead of him in the game of football.”

While Toney’s had his turns under center as a Gator, he hasn’t seen the type of success as a signal-caller — outside of the game-winning touchdown pass at Mississippi State in 2018 that is — that compares to his recent three-game stretch as a wideout. 

Toney’s contributions Saturday gave him 443 receiving yards and three touchdowns combined in his last three games, leaving him just 16 yards away from eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark. He may not have met that mark, but Toney’s first-quarter touchdown put him in elite company as he and tight end Kyle Pitts became just the fourth pass-catching duo in Florida history to both have 10 receiving touchdowns for the season. 

Not many predicted Toney’s evolution this season, although it shouldn’t come as a huge surprise considering the need to develop into more of a complete pass-catcher was the biggest knock on the Eight Mile, Alabama, native prior to the 2020 season. 

As the SEC Championship Game further showed, it turns out Toney received that message loud and clear, and he credited his position coach with his continued development.

“I feel like I made a lot of strides through learning and practicing from Coach Billy Gonzales, just running different routes, different patterns, different ways to get open. I feel like I got more into that,” Toney said. “Just a lot of mental preparation. Through the break, it was mental, locking in on the playbook, locking in with the coaches, getting extra film sessions, or something like that. I guess you could say it became natural through teaching.”

Now, it’s not just Toney’s athleticism that appears NFL-ready. With Toney critical in leading the charge, the Gators came within a touchdown of college football’s current dynasty — two things that didn’t seem likely not too long ago. 

His future yet to be determined, Toney hopes Saturday served as a reminder of just how close Florida came, and how much work remains to be done. As he showed this season, a year’s worth can go a long way — a necessary reminder for the Gators, considering they’ll face Alabama again less than 365 days from now, this time in the regular season. 

“I think it should set the tone for the next few years to come because these guys are going to know the standard, know what it takes to get there,” Toney said. “It should just drive them to go harder.”

Up next

What: Cotton Bowl

Who: Florida (8-3) vs. Oklahoma (8-2)

When: 8 p.m. Dec. 30

TV: ESPN

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850