The Billy Napier era got off to a good start with a thrilling 29-26 win over No. 7 Utah, sealed by a goal-line interception with :17 remaining on the clock.
Despite knocking off a top-ten team to open the season, there’s still much to be worked on moving forward. The following are my grades for 2022 season opening victory over Utah.
The Gators offense did just enough to win on Saturday. They made the plays necessary for victory and managed to score when the team absolutely needed it in the fourth quarter. While the passing game left a little to be desired, the running game was spectacular. The Gators gained 283 yards on the ground for an average of more than seven yards per attempt. Also, QB Anthony Richardson put the country on alert as he rushed for 106 yards, himself, while displaying the athleticism that Gator fans know so well. The offensive line also played well, giving up no sacks and allowing the offense to find big holes in the run game. Additionally, the Gators went 7-12 on third down and 2-2 on fourth down. Unfortunately, aside from Ricky Pearsall, the receiving corps struggled to gain separation all night. That’ll have to change for the offense to reach it’s full potential.
Still thinking about this Anthony Richardson play from last night 🤯
Unreal 🔥 pic.twitter.com/Azn1FCNW9N
— ESPN (@espn) September 4, 2022
A late interception by Amari Burney to clinch a win is certainly a positive, but how we got to that point is of concern. Utah RB Tavion Thomas ran at will in the second half. The Gators simply had no answer. Thomas finished with 115 yards on 23 carries while QB Cam Rising added 91 yards on 7 attempts. Rising also threw for 216 yards on an efficient 22-32 passing. Utah finished the game 8-13 on third down, a rate that will need to change starting next week against Kentucky.
Special Teams: B-
Florida was remarkably average in the kicking game. Punter Jeremy Crawshaw punted three times for an average of 40 yards (two inside the opponent’s 20). Though the Gators didn’t attempt a field goal, the kickoffs were no issue. Returns were a different story. Florida started short of the 25 on each possession that wasn’t a fair catch as Xzavier Henderson and Ja’Markis Weston could only gain a total of 81 yards on five returns. The Gators also had two holding calls during kick returns that forced the offense to start inside their own ten yard line.
Amari Burney with the game-clinching pick! #Gators pic.twitter.com/gk23ksWq9e
— Zach Abolverdi (@ZachAbolverdi) September 4, 2022
How do you give the first coach in program history to defeat a top ten team in his debut anything less than a B? Play calling on offense seemed to be rather vanilla. Maybe they were holding back a little before playing Kentucky next weekend in the Swamp to open conference play? Seven penalties wasn’t the discipline Napier has been preaching all off-season either.
The bottom line is that this team did enough to win in all phases of the game. They will have to be better, especially against SEC opponents, but it was an incredible start to the Napier era.