Anthony Richardson made Billy Napier’s head coaching debut in Florida a memorable one.
Richardson, the Gators’ electric sophomore quarterback, played in front of a raucous home crowd in the Swamp to help Florida upset No. 7 Utah (29-26).
Utah was able to limit Richardson to mostly under-throwing in the passing game, but was unable to stop him on the ground. was recorded. He also sparked a 45-yard touchdown run late in the first half and scored from 2 yards out in the first quarter.
Led by Richardson, the Florida offense gained a whopping 284 yards on the ground with a clip of about 7.5 yards per rush. Every time the Utah defense needed a stop, Richardson or one of him on his back could get enough to sustain the drive. Most important of the series was Richardson dodging the pressure and running free for 9 yards at 4 and 2 from Utah 26 on Florida’s game-winning drive.
But after that Richardson touchdown, Utah still had a shot. Cam Rising led Utah’s offense to the Florida 6-yard line. With the clock ticking off his 30 seconds, Utah were looking to win, but a chip shot field goal could have forced them into overtime.
Instead, Rising forced one into traffic in the end zone and was intercepted by Ama Burney.
Bernie’s interception sealed a thrilling win for the Gators and a heartbreaker for the Youths, who many predicted as potential college football playoff contenders going into the season.
This was a chance for Utah to make a big statement, but the Gators spoiled Napier for its first SEC win.
Utah nearly pulled out an important early season win
Utah came close to escaping Gainesville with a win.
Like Florida, Utah was led offensively by its rushing attack. Tavion Thomas stole his 115 yards, scoring a touchdown on 23 carries, and Rising he scored 90 yards on 7 runs.
The defending Pac-12 champions led for much of the first half and led 19-14 in the fourth quarter thanks to Micah Bernard’s touchdown run.
On the ensuing drive, Richardson led the Gators down the field and regained the lead when Montrell Johnson, Jr. scored from 14 yards out. With that touchdown he led 20-19, and Richardson’s incredible individual effort on his 2-point conversion gave the Gators his 22-19 advantage.
Utah quickly punched back on their next drive, marching 73 yards in 11 plays and coming back in front 26–22 with 6:26 remaining.
That set the stage for Richardson to win the game. The Gators’ winning drive spanned his 14 plays, 12 of which were runs. In the process, it was clear that Napier was trying to squeeze out as much overtime as possible.
UF ended up with 1:25 left in Utes, but an initially spectacular drive from Rising was doomed.
It was the second time Utah had fumbled in a goal-to-go situation in the second half. Early in his third with Florida leading 14-13, Utes scored his 4th and his 1st goal from his 1st.
These two goal line failures ultimately proved to be very costly.
What does this mean for Utah?
This is a huge loss for Pac-12, a conference battling perception issues. Utah are expected to be the best team in the Pac-12, but could not beat a Florida team expected to finish in the middle of the SEC East pack.
The reality of the situation is a little more subtle. Florida is a really tough place to play, especially at night, and Utah has struck a blow with the Gators under a new coaching staff with an elite quarterback. Florida could do much better than preseason prognosticators expected.
And while Utah could have yet another great season, if Utah found themselves in the CFP hunt a few months from now, a win here would have come a long way.
What does this mean for Florida?
It’s a great way to start Napier’s tenure.
Florida won a total of 29 from 2018-2020, but things didn’t go off in 2021 and Dan Mullen was sacked. While the Gators won’t return to his SEC title fight overnight, this is the first positive sign for the Napier administration.
Napier has made Louisiana one of the best programs on the Sun Belt. The Ragin’ Cajuns were disciplined and always physical in their run games. In its first year in Florida, where Richardson runs the show, the Gators appear to be following a similar blueprint.