GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Prior to his senior season, Gators receiver Solomon Patton was known primarily as a good special-teams player and an option in the run game.
Patton quickly found a spot in first-year offensive coordinator Brent Pease’s plans a year ago. He was the jet sweep guy.
To keep opposing defensive coordinators guessing, Pease dialed up Patton’s No. 83 often last season on quick end-around runs. They worked. The 5-foot-9 Patton rushed for 140 yards on 14 carries, an average of a first down each time he took a handoff.
Patton wanted a bigger role.
His 2012 season ended when he suffered a broken arm against Georgia. Once the arm healed Patton returned to the offseason workouts on a mission.
“I didn’t miss a day working out,” he said. “My mindset was to get better every day. Even when we didn’t have workouts, I was up here working out. When we had chances to go home, I just stayed in town and came up here and worked out, ran routes, did footwork, and just stuff to get me better.”
Patton had one catch for 21 yards in the season opener against Toledo. He garnered more attention for a dropped pass than his catch. On a play that would have gone for 25 yards or more, a wide-open Patton jumped when he didn’t have to and dropped the ball.
The Swamp groaned.
Florida fans cheered Patton in Saturday’s 21-16 loss at Miami. He made the Gators’ biggest play of the game and finished with a career-high six catches for 118 yards.
In terms of breakout games, Patton had one. He took the field at Sun Life Stadium with nine career catches for 100 yards. Patton’s career-long 46-yard catch in the first quarter was a work of receiver art.
Gators quarterback Jeff Driskel delivered a hint prior to the play.
“Leaving out of the huddle, he told me to run that route,” Patton said. “When he told me to run that route, I knew it was coming my way. I didn’t think I was going to get it. I looked up and the way he threw it wasn’t the angle I was taking. I just made an adjustment and leaned back out and ended up coming down with the catch.”
Patton’s twisting catch on a deep-post route behind Hurricanes safety Antonio Crawford gave the Gators the ball at UM’s 21. However, the drive ended five plays later on Driskel’s interception.
Patton added his first career touchdown reception in the fourth quarter when Driskel hit him for a 21-yard scoring strike.
“I had been running that route the entire game and it had not come to me,” Patton said. “I just ran my route full speed and turned and saw a hole — and the hole was pretty big — and he threw it to me and I ran to the end zone.”
Patton’s 118-yard performance was Florida’s first 100-yard game by a receiver since Andre Debose hauled in three catches for 151 yards in 2011 against Furman.
For a receiving corps that has faced ample scrutiny since Gators head coach Will Muschamp took over the program, Patton’s emergence provides proof there is talent at the position.
“Solomon has had a really good camp and played well,” Muschamp said. “He has played well and is a guy that we need to get the ball to. He’s done all the things we’ve asked him to do.”
Driskel told reporters after the game the he wasn’t looking Patton’s way at Miami by accident.
“He had a great game,” Driskel said. “After last week — that drop there — he really wanted to make up for that. He’s a guy that’s going to have to play well for us and he’s come out and showed that so far.”
Patton knows the season is only two games old, and one of those games turned into a loss because of too many Florida mistakes.
Still, Driskel’s career-high 291 yards passing Saturday and his big day has Patton exciting about the offense’s potential.
“We threw the ball a lot and I was able to show everybody that I can make plays,” he said. “That goes for all the receivers — we can all make plays. I feel like we all made a big step and prove to everybody that we have receivers here and that Jeff can throw the ball.
“I feel like going forward it’s going to be a real good year.”