Solomon Patton has toiled in anonymity for the better part of his four-year career at Florida.
In his first three seasons, the Mobile, Ala., native caught more grief than passes. He hauled in a meager eight receptions for 79 yards and no touchdowns in 22 games.
And in the first quarter of Florida's 17-9 loss to Georgia last season, Patton's struggles were compounded by an untimely injury.
The 5'9", then-168-pound junior took a hand off on a jet sweep call toward the left sideline that proved to be his final touch of the year.
Bulldogs safety Shawn Williams tackled Patton by the neck and the hard landing broke his left arm. The injury abruptly ended what appeared to be a revitalizing season for the struggling receiver, who played an integral role in Florida's misdirection run game.
Come Saturday, Patton will be ready to take the stage versus a Georgia defense that ranks No. 95 versus the pass, as he told Garry Smits of The Florida Times Union. "I'm definitely ready for this game. I've had it circled since last year. This is the main game I've been waiting on all year."
Solomon Patton's stepped all the way up in Andre Debose's absence. Best story on the field for the Gators this year.— Alligator Army (@AlligatorArmy) October 19, 2013
On a team where playmakers are both hurt and scarce, Patton has emerged as an option at virtually every spot on the field: flanker, slot and split end.
He's added 12 pounds to his frame and has improved both his route-running and pass-catching abilities. Patton leads Florida with 28 catches for 426 yards and four touchdowns and has been a versatile in the return game, ranking third in the SEC in kickoff return yards.
Solomon Patton is the first #Gator WR to score two receiving touchdowns against an SEC opponent since Riley Cooper vs. UGA, 10-31-09!— GatorZone Football (@GatorZoneFB) October 6, 2013
His 118-yard receiving game versus Miami was the most for a Gator since Andre Debose recorded three catches for 151 yards versus Furman in 2011.
More importantly, Patton has been Florida's most consistent player on offense in 2013.
He consistently wins in the three-step timing game with his elusiveness after the catch, in the intermediate passing game with crossing patterns and post patterns in the deep game. And he'll certainly be a key cog versus Georgia on Saturday.
Let's examine this further.
On this play, Florida is lined up in a 3-1 formation with 20 personnel (two running backs, three receivers). Patton lines up at the "Z" position to the far right sideline and will run a "9" route. Miami's corner, not coincidentally, respects Patton's speed and plays eight yards beyond the line of scrimmage.
At the snap, Patton takes an inside release and quickly gets up the vertical stem of his route. Quarterback Jeff Driskel takes advantage of a clean pocket and a one-on-one opportunity with Patton outside.
Despite tight coverage, Driskel fits the throw with perfect trajectory. But notice Patton's concentration. He looks the ball all the way in on his inside shoulder for a 46-yard reception. More importantly, it's key to point out how soft the cornerback played Patton pre-snap.
In 2013, Patton has only been targeted on one throw beyond 40 yards. In seven games, however, Patton has receptions of 46, 52, 38 and 21 yards. But this can be contributed to his ability to win in the three-step timing game and turn intermediate patterns into long gains.
Let's take it a step further.
Versus Arkansas, Patton had a career day, registering 124 yards and two touchdowns on just six catches. How he did it was equally impressive and was a credit to his elusiveness and ability to run after the catch.
Florida is lined up in 10 personnel (one running back, four receivers) with trips to the right side and Patton, the "Z" receiver, aligned to the strength of the formation. Patton is going to run a "4" route at a depth of 11 yards.
At the snap, Patton drives low and hard off his front foot with the cornerback playing off at the line of scrimmage. This action forces the corner to drop quickly, and Patton finds a soft spot in Arkansas' zone coverage.
What Patton does after making the catch is a testament to his raw playmaking ability. He pivots inside-to-outside and shows off some serious short-area quickness en route to a 51-yard score.
Patton's speed dictates how defenses want to defend him. And when given a free release, the 5'9" receiver makes cornerbacks pay with a unique combination of route-running skill and elusiveness.
Come Saturday, I fully expect Patton to play well versus Georgia's defense. With two true freshman starting in the secondary, coordinator Brent Pease will certainly find ways to isolate Patton in one-on-one opportunities.