Florida's loss to Tennessee on Saturday is a hard pill to swallow, given the Gators' stronghold on the series dating back to 2005. However, in year one of the rebuilding process for UF, the contest presented much-needed areas of promise to grow moving forward that wasn't previously available to the eye.
Namely, the offense began to once again tick at a high level with the emergence of an absent passing attack thus far this season leading the way.
Discussing the implementation of a new approach to the weekly preparation at the beginning of Tennessee week, quarterback Anthony Richardson detailed how he would go about getting himself and his wideouts on the same page to capitalize on the chances that were missed in prior weeks.
"We're going to start doing something new this week, watching film together and just trying to understand what can help us in different coverages and stuff like that," he said last week.
After the Tennessee contest, Richardson credited the strong offensive outing and his breakout to that increased preparation with his weapons in the passing game.
"Just preparation. We prepared all week to take some shots. The receivers and I were working on that all week, just building chemistry and confidence. And we tried to showcase that tonight."
Posting a program's all-time best 453 passing yards against an SEC opponent and two touchdowns through the air, that new approach — consisting of increased on-and-off-the-field communication and added film study with the receivers — seemingly did wonders for Richardson and his pass catchers.
Wide receiver Ricky Pearsall, who is in his first year with the Gators after transferring from Arizona State this offseason, is a beneficiary of the added time the players put in to create and build their chemistry.
"I'm in a group chat with [Richardson and other receivers] so we can watch film, and I think that's really important, to get on the same page," he said postgame. "I think that prior games sometimes, like, it wasn't working out because we weren't on the same pages. So, I think that was really important for us to go back and watch film and understand what he saw compared to what I saw and just go get it."
Pearsall understands that the wide receiver and quarterback dynamic involves the wideouts' dependency on what the passer sees and the throws he makes. As a result, he's made it a priority to inquire about the little things in an attempt to translate what happens on the practice field onto the gridiron in the ensuing week.
"Just watching film and practice, going hard and just getting the extra work in with him and just asking questions," Pearsall said when asked about the work he puts in with Richardson. "I'm going to ask him a lot of questions because he's the quarterback. My position relies on him, so I'm going to ask him a lot of questions and just get on the same page is just the most important part between the quarterbacks and receivers."
He, and the other wideouts, seemingly found that middle ground needed for success on Saturday.
Pearsall scored his first touchdown of the season against Tennessee, supplementing the final score and giving Florida an opportunity to pull off an improbable comeback in Rocky Top with 0:17 left on a route over the middle. He compiled 103 yards on five receptions throughout the day to be the second-leading receiver on the squad.
His counterparts Justin Shorter, Xzavier Henderson and even tight end Keon Zipperer showcased a notable uptick in production, allowing the Florida offense to move the ball efficiently and consistently against the Tennessee defense.
Shorter hauled in seven receptions for 155 yards, Henderson grabbed four balls for 68 yards and Zipperer snagged three balls for 62 yards and a score. Pearsall, Shorter and Richardson earned offensive Players of the Week honors — handed out weekly by the program — for their contributions to the five-point loss.
The emergence of the passing game may be shocking to those on the outside looking into this point. However, Pearsall shared that the offense felt good about being able to throw on the Volunteers' defense.
It was just a matter of finding a similar groove in Neyland Stadium that they've had on the practice field throughout the year.
"I mean just executing what we do in practice every day, we're in practice grinding that's what we work for," he said about the involvement of the passing game specifically.
"It looks good to just go out there and execute, that's what we've been trying to do, but we've just got to get out, get back on the same page and keep working on those little details."
Pearsall is confident this explosive performance can become a norm as the year rolls on. The Gators look to allow this experience in their first road contest of the year to snowball into being a high-powered offense the rest of the way.
"Just one percent every day," he said. "That's the mindset for all of the guys, you know, getting one percent better every day. And then we're going to take the things that we did good at here in this game and then continue to do those things, and even get better at them. Then, take the things we didn't do as good and you know, fix them up a little bit, watch film, wonder why, like, 'oh, why did this go wrong?'"
If the passing game remains the way it did in Knoxville, Tenn., and the rushing game re-emerges simultaneously, Florida should be in an excellent spot offensively for its final eight contests.
The Gators will have ample opportunity to fix what's wrong and continue their growth in that area as they face off against an FCS opponent in Eastern Washington at noon ET this upcoming Saturday.
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