King of the Hill.
With 2020 being the year of the unknown, uncertain, and unexpected, the landscape of college football has drastically changed.
With those changes has come a conference-only schedule, a Heisman contender leading a historic Florida Gators offense, and the evident development of players young and veteran to the forefront of UF’s success.
Going into their matchup against the winless Vanderbilt Commodores, Florida—especially its defense—has an opportunity to make some much-needed tweaks as they plan to navigate their way through the closing stretch of the season.
Being favored by over 31.5 points over Vanderbilt, the Gators are slated to roll over Commodores on their way to a 6-1 and continue their undefeated status against SEC East opponents (3-0).
Given the team Vanderbilt fields, Florida’s dominance to this point in the year, and the noon kickoff allowing for Gators Nation's lack of anticipation, there are still reasons to watch as UF heads into Nashville on Saturday.
Specifically, due to the emergence of one of the nation's best offenses and the likelihood that points will be scored in abundance from start to finish, as least on one side.
In scoring those points, Florida will look to give a high volume of touches to one of the most dynamic playmakers in all of football in the form of the Human Joystick, Kadarius Toney.
Since stepping onto the field in orange and blue as a true freshman, Toney has been a walking highlight reel with loads of potential to be a star. With an uncanny ability to stop and start, make players miss, and seemingly never go down on the first tackle attempt, Toney has drawn recent attention from around the nation for his skillset.
However, the knock on the all-around athlete was his lack of a focus on one position. Seeing a lot of time as a wide receiver and running back, neither seemed to be spots that he was fully comfortable operating.
Entering the 2020 season, Toney came out with something to prove when it came to him being positionless, a detriment to his eventual draft stock when that came time.
Showcasing an increased ability to run routes from the slot receiver position and show reliability as a pass catcher down the field, Toney transformed himself from last year to this season.
As a result, the number of touches Toney has seen drastically increased, and what he has done with those touches has been nothing short of special.
Completing the hat trick against the Missouri Tigers just a few weeks ago, Toney has put together quite the stat line so far this season.
Being the king of the hill for the Gators in receptions with 36, total yards with 476, and second in touchdowns scored just behind Kyle Pitts (8) with seven, Toney has heavily boosted himself into the conversation for the most dynamic player in all of college football.
Despite a plateau of his yards per touch average from when his career average of 10.5 yards—due to the higher volume of usage making it difficult to produce a number that high—he still averages 8.85 yards on 48 touches this season.
Seeing two straight weeks of limited impact—struggling to find a consistent rhythm against Georgia and Arkansas where he abandoned his early-season ability to take the short-yardage gains in an attempt to make splash plays—this upcoming matchup with Vandy gives the NFL hopeful a chance to bounce back in a big way.
Fresh off accepting an invite to the Senior Bowl in his hometown of Mobile, Alabama, Toney could have a motivated performance the way he saw his teammate Trevon Grimes did last week after receiving his invitation prior to the game.
Grimes’s six receptions for 109 yards and two touchdowns may not be the expectation to have for Toney against Vanderbilt, but it’s not one he cannot meet or exceed either.
With the offense playing highly effective football with any personnel that steps onto the field, Toney gives the Gators a home run element they can utilize at their disposal.
His ability as a skill position player allows him to get involved in a multitude of ways, and his impact on the game should be heightened this week against an inferior Vanderbilt squad, especially in the absence of tight end Pitts.
On Saturday, getting the man involved early and often will pay dividends for both the Gators offense and the Alabama native who is looking to make a statement for his future when he returns to Mobile in late January.