With silence overcoming Ben Hill Griffin Stadium on Saturday afternoon, the Gators did more of what they’d been doing: Quarterback Feleipe Franks dropped back and fired off a quick screen pass toward the right sideline.
Coach Jim McElwain said after his team’s season-opening loss to Michigan that this was part of the plan.
He wanted to get the ball to playmakers in space and let them do what playmakers do.
Earlier in the game, that strategy yielded mixed results. But on this play early in the second quarter, there was a new playmaker.
Following a benign performance against Michigan where he caught two passes for 27 yards, wideout Karadius Toney, who was billed as a playmaker before the season, introduced himself to Gainesville with an ankle-shaking run.
The true freshman shook one defender on the screen pass, then shook another and turned what could have been no gain into a 19-yard first down.
He followed it up with a 5-yard run from the quarterback position. Recruited as a quarterback out of high school in Alabama, Toney has since moved to receiver.
But Saturday was the first look at what the former quarterback could do in a Wildcat offense. Using Toney in multiple roles is something McElwain said he wanted to do before the season — especially after he ran for 74 yards on five carries playing exclusively quarterback in UF’s spring game.
Toney finished the game with 40 yards receiving.
It was the second consecutive game Florida’s freshmen defensive backs made an impact.
Columbus alum CJ Henderson took an interception back for a touchdown for the second game in a row, and fellow South Florida freshman Marco Wilson, an American Heritage-Plantation grad, also stood out with a pass breakup in the second quarter on a deep ball down the left sideline.
One name that didn’t show up in the stats among the freshman defensive backs was Miami Southridge alum Shawn Davis.
A week after he gave up a touchdown while playing safety, he didn’t see many meaningful minutes.
Instead, the Gators used a combination of starters Nick Washington and Chauncey Gardner, and redshirt freshman Jeawon Taylor.
THIS AND THAT
▪ Under former defensive coordinator Geoff Collins, Florida branded every defensive third down as the “money down.”
Every time UF’s defense was on the field for a third down, staffers jumped up and down on the Gators’ sideline with signs reading “$ Down” while fans held up their arms and rubbed their fingers together.
With Collins having left in the offseason to become coach at Temple, it appears new defensive coordinator Randy Shannon discontinued the “tradition” that began in McElwain’s first two seasons at Florida.
There were no signs and no mention of the money down on Saturday in The Swamp, though some students did appear to hold their hands up and make a money gesture.
▪ Miami Norland High School was well represented in The Swamp on Saturday.
At one point, when Florida used a two-linebacker formation, both players — sophomore Vosean Joseph and redshirt sophomore Rayshad Jackson — were former Vikings.
Joseph finished the game with six tackles, and Jackson had one.