A Florida assistant coach meets with reporters every Wednesday at noon. The coach rotates from week to week, but the procedure is usually the same: Ask about each individual player in that position group, because who knows when that coach will speak again. This Wednesday was receiver coach Kerry Dixon’s turn, but the procedure was a little different.
Only two players were asked about by name: Tyrie Cleveland and Kadarius Toney. That makes sense. When they’re on, Florida’s offense is noticeably improved. When they’re not, like against Texas A&M when they were both injured, Florida’s offense is even worse than usual. So heading into a game Florida (3-3, 3-2 Southeastern Conference) must win to stay in slim contention for the SEC Eastern Division title, it wasn’t surprising to hear them brought up. Because without them, Florida’s chances this Saturday against No. 3 Georgia (7-0, 4-0 SEC), which are already bad (the Bulldogs opened as 14 ½-point favorites), are much worse.
Toney came up in the second question of Dixon’s press conference. He’s the less important of the tandem based on production. At 107 yards through the air this year, he ranks fourth on the team. But his value is more in his electricity.
He can run the ball on sweeps, he can run out of the wildcat formation, he can catch passes, and as a guy who played quarterback in high school, he can throw as well. That versatility is why he’s listed as an athlete — the only athlete — on Florida’s roster. If there was such a thing as the “eyeball test” for Florida’s offense, his moves and cuts would make him one of the few guaranteed to pass.
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“We knew he was special in the spring,” Dixon said. “Moving forward we definitely hope to use him a lot more."
McElwain said Wednesday afternoon that Toney’s return is not certain, but he’s “doing everything” to be able to play.
Cleveland came up a little later for Dixon. Despite not registering a catch in UF’s last two games — that’s a third of the season — he still has twice as many yards as the next-closest receiver at 326. Brandon Powell is next at 149. He missed those two games with a high ankle sprain, and his absence limited Florida’s vertical passing game. Coach Jim McElwain said that will be a big part of this weekend’s contest against Georgia given how the Bulldogs load the box to stop the running game.
“We're going to have to make some plays downfield,” he said.
Players sounded hopeful Cleveland will be back. So did McElwain, who called him probable.
"He's back to his normal self,” Powell said. “It's just an ankle sprain, so he needed some time off, he got the bye week, so now he's back to his old self.”
However, Powell then referred to the abilities of other players in the wideout group.
“We've got playmakers everywhere,” he said. “Just to have another one of our playmakers back just makes us that much better.”
That’s not exactly true. At least not so far. In the two games without Cleveland, UF managed 135 and 108 passing yards. With him, it’s managed 249, 209, 212 and 181. Dixon knows the difference Cleveland makes.
"There's a comfort level when you have that deep threat out there,” he said. “They have to make certain coverage adjustments to him, which is a great asset to the offense.”
▪ In addition to updates on Toney and Cleveland, McElwain said defensive end Jabari Zuniga, who was nursing an ankle injury, should be able to play. He added wideout Josh Hammond is questionable with a tweaked back.
▪ Jim McElwain ignited Florida’s fan base Monday by revealing he’d received death threats. Some questioned the legitimacy of those threats after UAA spokesman Steve McClain sent out statement ending with, “Our administration met with coach McElwain this afternoon and he offered no additional details.” McElwain tried to clarify on Wednesday.
“It’s just something that came up and obviously was on my mind,” he said. “It doesn’t make it right. It doesn’t make it right to air that laundry, and yet at the same time [we’ve] got total, total support.”
When asked if his family was threatened directly, he said the threats were anonymous but didn’t offer many other details. His response, in its entirety:
“Obviously, I understand that's the news,” he answered. “It goes with the territory. You know what? It’s hard to leave sometimes. You know how much I care about this program, these players. Obviously, everything that goes in with it. But ultimately allowing one or two, and who even knows who it was, right? You don’t know. It’s anonymous. So, that is what it is, and I’m confident we’re all right.”