Photo: Nay'Quan Wright and Austin Barber; Credit: Alex Shepherd
That was a night to forget for Florida.
The Florida Gators escaped a near-catastrophic loss to USF on Saturday, utilizing the influx of late game miscues by the Bulls to overcome their in-state opponent by a three-point margin.
Participating in their third close game in a row against an opponent many expected to be an opportunity for Florida to “get-right” against, the play and outcome provided little answers for the Gators moving forward. In fact, more questions are present now than before.
Following the second rough performance in a row for UF, All Gators takes a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the unfulfilling victory over the Bulls.
Good: Gators rushing attack
The Gators' rushing game continued to be a strength for Florida despite their limited usage of the backfield.
On the most successful drives of the contest, Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne featured as the focal point of the group.
Johnson broke off a 62-yard touchdown run to give the Gators their first score of the game and take a 10-7 lead. Etienne was the feature back on a four-play, 28-yard drive after a late turnover by USF en route to his eventual game-winning TD run. The duo produced 159 of the total 217 yards on the ground, combining for two scores.
Fellow back Nay’Quan Wright added 37 yards and got into the end zone as well, placing a cherry on top of an uber-productive unit that saw just 20 touches on the night.
However, it wasn’t just the backs that shined. The Gators' offensive line rebounded from a middling performance against Kentucky to create considerable push in run blocking, freeing up huge lanes. Florida averaged 7.2 yards per carry in large part due to the unit's efforts.
Moving forward, Florida should lean into its identity as a rushing team to take pressure off its struggling quarterback with more than 14 combined rushes between the top two backs with not a single ball carrier earning double digit carries.
The Gators will hope to continue the rushing success with increased volume (at least there should be) in week four against Tennessee, as controlling the clock and keeping an explosive Volunteers offense off the field will be imperative to the final outcome.
Bad: Anthony Richardson
For the second time in as many weeks, Anthony Richardson failed to put Florida in a position to win. It’s led to a panic from the fan base regarding the quarterback spot moving forward.
Some have even thrown out the idea of benching Richardson due to his poor performance. To that, I say: Relax. You say it can’t get worse. It can always get worse.
However, there are red flags in his play that could be detrimental to the teams success if they continue.
The numbers from his performance at 10 for 18, 112 yards, zero touchdowns and two interceptions are one thing. His lapses in decision making in multiple facets, on the other hand, are another.
In a sense, Richardson’s lack of confidence is leading him to perform as 2021 starter Emory Jones did for Florida a season ago. Playing with timidly no anticipation throwing the football, Richardson is crumbling under the pressure of being the guy at UF.
He had multiple opportunities to push the ball downfield against USF, but hesitated, waiting guys out of throwing windows before being forced to scramble or trying to make a throw that isn’t there anymore.
Namely, on his first interception, Richardson scanned the field from right to left. Wide receiver Ricky Pearsall ran free over the intermediate middle of the field, about 15-20 yards past the line of scrimmage. Instead of firing the ball into Pearsall on first glance, Richardson hitched before attempting the pass anyway. The slight hesitation allowed Dwayne Boyles Jr. to move into the passing lane, where Richardson put it in his chest before returning it to the UF 18-yard line.
The Bulls scored off the turnover.
Then again, on his second interception of the night, Richardson evidently checked out of a called run play near the goal line after seeing the box was stacked against him. It’s a freedom he has in the offense, and a read Napier said he supported.
However, in opting for fade route to Justin Shorter in one-on-one coverage, Richardson had the right idea but failed to execute.
Instead of allowing the 6-foot-4, 225-pound wideout to go up over the top of his defender, he threw a line drive ball intended for Shorter’s back shoulder. It was undercut as a result to squander a scoring opportunity for Florida to take the lead.
Richardson has Gators nickel cornerback Tre’Vez Johnson to thank for getting the ball back a few plays later with a diving interception in striking distance.
Napier was asked what the process looks like when Richardson comes back to the sideline after some of those plays
“You try to keep it technical,” he said. “I think it’s important that he has the process and that he understands what happened and why it happened. The good thing is, he does. I think you just try to create an environment where a guy can learn and can continue to grow and develop as a player.“
Given the high-level talent he possesses, one can only hope that the flip switches mentally for Richardson in the near future — especially once you’ve talked to him off the field.
He’s easy to root for.
However, his last two performances and a zero-to-four touchdown-interception ratio suggest considerable room for improvement mentally before he arrives as a consistent, winning quarterback at the SEC level.
Luckily for Richardson, he wasn’t the worst aspect of Florida’s team this week. The defensive unit protected him from a second straight appearance in the ugly category.
Ugly: Run Defense
Last week, the defense was the bright spot in a loss to No. 20 Kentucky. This week, it low-lighted an all around poor performance by Florida.
The loss of middle linebacker Ventrell Miller was evident as Florida struggled to defend the rushing attack throughout the entire contest. In the first half, the Bulls ranked up over 200 yards and nine yards per carry, gashing Florida defense in anyway they pleased.
The second half was a different story, but didn’t reconcile the abysmal efforts in the first 30 minutes. USF finished with 286 yards and 6.2 yards per carry.
Florida failed to accurately fill run gaps up the middle, set the edge on the outside or tackle the ball carrier when those things were done correctly. The Gators missed 11 total tackles, according to PFF, although it seemed like more to keep USF afloat in a game that should’ve been over by halftime.
Scooby Williams and Amari Burney catalyzed those woes with their gap integrity, while freshman Shemar James also saw how rough life without Miller on the rotation could be. Meanwhile, the defensive line creates little push despite the expected edge in talent in the trenches compared to the Bulls.
Luckily for Florida, their next opponent doesn’t present a dominant rushing attack that can exploit their evident holes in the front seven. Then again, neither did USF.
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