The No. 10 Florida Gators have only two regular season games remaining on the schedule—and a bowl game on the horizon—but head coach Dan Mullen and staff aren’t done tooling with this team yet. During the Gators 56-0 win over Vanderbilt on Saturday, there were freshmen making their start, others getting increased playing time, and upperclassmen returners.
Ethan White and Richard Gouriage—a true freshman and redshirt freshman respectively—both made their first start against Vanderbilt. The change came due to offensive line shuffling following the departure of right guard Chris Bleich (family issues) and an injury to Brett Heggie. The two had the luxury of facing the SEC’s 13th worst rushing defense. The Dores had been giving up an average of 202.8 rushing yards per game. Florida gained less, at 150, but put up 410 passing yards for 560 total.
The first play of the game, quarterback Kyle Trask handed off to Lamical Perine. The senior back rushed over right tackle was following White. The rush went no where. On the ensuing offensive drive however, on a 2nd and 1, White pulled and Perine followed the big man for a 3-yard gain. Such is how the day continued for both, taking a lump here and there but largely holding up against the defensive line and helping give Trask a clean pocket for much of the day, in rout to his 363 passing yards (the most by a Florida quarterback since Tim Tebow’s final game as a Gator).
Mullen said of White and Gouriage, “I didn’t see any negative things with those two during the course of the game. I’m looking at a lot of different things. I’ll watch on film. What I didn’t see on the field is any negatives. Just walking off the field, those two guys did a heck of a job having to come in and play and play with confidence.”
Freshman linebacker Mohamoud Diabate saw his role grow ten-fold with the long term loss of Jeremiah Moon to injury. Diabate has played all season, recording a tackle in seven games. But with Moon sidelined, Diabate told the junior on Friday night, “I always felt like I had the talent. I just had to mature and get the opportunity to do so. So, when the time came – I talked to Moon last night – I told him I was going to take care of it.”
He did more than “take care of it.” He completely showed out in the form of three sacks for a loss of 27 yards total. The third of the sacks resulted in a turnover as well, Diabate knocking the ball loose. BUCK Jon Greenard scooped the leather and saw nothing but open grass for 80-yards in front of him. It took a bit longer for the big man to make the distance, but with that much open field, you can score at your own pace.
“I didn't actually know [I caused the fumble],” admits Diabate.
"I heard everyone cheering and I thought they were just cheering for the sack, then I saw Greenard running and I was like 'Oh snap, let me run too.' So I got up and I started chasing him but he was going pretty fast so I couldn't get him. I just turned to the sideline celebrating.”
The story though was not necessarily Greenard’s touchdown, but Diabate’s sacks. The Auburn, Alabama native broke through for each sack in a variety of ways—blitzing, off the edge, up the middle, etc.). But the constant was his speed. At 220lbs, he’s slightly undersized for a linebacker. So instead, Diabate has found ways to use that to his advantage.
“I feel like that's my biggest asset so that's always what I want to do, I want to use my speed and then if that doesn't work I'm gonna find a counter move to use. But that's my biggest strength so my coaches make sure that I know that and use that.”
The last “new” guy was an old-faced. Kadarius Toney technically returned last week against Georgia, following an 8-week absence while recovering from a shoulder injury. He had one touch against the Bulldogs that went no where. On Saturday against Vanderbilt, that number increased exponentially.
Toney ended the night as the leading rusher with 39 yards on two rushes while adding a reception for 10 yards. Both rushes were jet sweeps, plays that utilize his speed and elusiveness. The first picked up 13-yards, the last couple courtesy of a spin move at the end. The second sweep included not one, not two but three juke moves, breaking the ankles and taking the souls of defenders all around him.
“He’s one of the most electric players in college football,” said receiver Tre Grimes of the human joystick Toney.
“He’s an amazing player. Like I said, it’s an honor to have players like that on the team because nobody’s selfish. So when he gets the ball, he may only get it one time in the game, but when he does, he does something with it. And he’s just an electrifying player. He’s fun to watch.”