It could be just by chance that Miami Hurricanes’ wide receiver Jeff Thomas and Florida WR Kadarius Toney both wear the number four — or did until Toney switched to No. 1 this offseason. After all, there are tons of matchups where the same number is worn on both sides of a lineup. However, what really sets this pairing aside is that each player is considered a spark plug of the offense. Charging electricity throughout the offense, fans are adamant that each needs to see a volume of touches each and every single game. Come August 24th when the Gators and Hurricanes renew hostilities at Camping World Stadium, plenty of eyes will be glued to these impact players.
Sharing the same digit in 2018 may have been the only similarity when they meet in Orlando. While Toney is listed as a WR, head coach Dan Mullen employs the 5’11”, 190 pound weapon across the formation in a given contest. You don’t need to bunker down in a film room to discover the various positions and formations that Toney will line up in. You can find the Mobile, Alabama, native working as Wildcat QB, out wide between the numbers as a receiver, tight to the line of scrimmage on reverses/jet sweeps or running routes out of the slot. The Gators are “The Annexation of Puerto Rico” short of having gotten him to do just about everything on a football field.
A cockamamie play from a Disney film would’ve been welcomed by Canes fans last season if it meant getting the ball to Jeff Thomas. Thomas burst out of the gates with five receptions for 132 receiving yards in an excellent performance against LSU in the season opener. A couple of weeks later, he would follow it up with another game against Toledo where he tallied five receptions, 102 receiving yards and a touchdown. If things were clicking in the passing game — a big IF indeed in 2018 — then Thomas was a certifiable nightmare for opposing defenses. UM fans are holding out hope that the new offensive coordinator Dan Enos will be the solution to the woes that has plagued the offense for the past two seasons. Enos’ arrival could be the energy drink that jump-starts Thomas back into the upper echelon of elite wideouts at the college level.
Another difference between the two is how they do most of their damage. Speed was a hilarious ‘94 Suspense thriller that helped make Keanu Reeves a legitimate star. From his acceleration off the line of scrimmage to getting into his break, few in the country can replicate what Thomas does in that regard. His ability to adjust to the ball in midair, serving as a friend to quarterbacks whose throws may have a bit more spice than necessary. Thomas’ bob and weave to set defenders up showcase that he’s more than just a fast guy at the position. Thomas’ top-end speed is unrivaled.
Before UF fans bemoan bias, Toney is more quick than fast at his position — if you know what I mean. What stands out most about Toney is his talent to make defenders miss in space, with Florida employing him on streak, comeback and curl routes. Watching film, there are several runs or short passes that appear doomed after the snap. Yet a shimmy here and a shimmy there, and there goes Toney weaving his way through traffic to the tune of a first down and more.
Clearly both men are threats to their opposition. Defensive coordinators (Blake Baker & Ephraim Banda) as well as Todd Grantham will be tasked with limiting their respective impact.
You have to account for Kadarius Toney’s alignment before each snap on defense for the Hurricanes. As a defense, you have to honor him as a WR who can line up in the backfield and be a competent rusher. With a designated eye on him at all times, Toney’s presence creates a favorable matchup for receivers Van Jefferson, Josh Hammond and Trevon Grimes. Is he Percy Harvin reincarnated? I don’t know about that, but he’s definitely a playmaker Miami’s defense can’t take lightly.
With the flick of a switch, Jeff Thomas can rack up yardage. The pass catcher has lined up both out wide and in the slot on offense. In the 2018 season opener, UM fans witnessed the receiver haul in a couple of miraculous catches. A huge aid in helping the Hurricanes convert big yardage, you just believe that a drive is headed for success when Thomas is able to corral a pass on a drive. Thomas has also split his time by working as the primary punt returner. Whether on offense or special teams, he’s able to show off his patience, escapability and explosion that has had Miami fans clamoring about his prospects since his arrival. Both Thomas and fans have to be salivating a little at the idea of him getting more run-after-catch opportunities looking ahead to the season. Especially if it comes at the expense of their in-state rivals.
Both Thomas and Toney seem poised to be factors in at least two phases of the game. Their production will be a key to victory for their respective sides. With so much expectation and emotion entering this monumental matchup, these juniors certainly stand out as X-Factors. The fourth of July has come and gone, but a couple of explosive weapons will provide their own fireworks at Camping World Stadium in this college football’s 150th season opener.
IT’ ALWAYS ABOUT THE U!