I feel as if we’ve seen this movie before. Florida’s the less-talented team and the Gators will somehow find a way to defeat No. 11 Tennessee on Saturday in Knoxville (3:30 p.m, CBS). The main character will be Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson.
After Richardson’s standout start against Utah in the season-opener, the Superman of the Florida offense has been hamstrung by play calling and the fear of getting hurt. Gators coach Billy Napier is currently in a tough spot, with backup Jack Miller still recovering from hand surgery. In the case of running the football, Richardson has held back, which is hurting the Gators offensively.
In the loss to Kentucky, it was eye opening to watch the Gators go scoreless on offense in the final 24 minutes. The Wildcats forced Richardson to work inside the pocket, not allowing him to use his feet to make plays. The offense hasn’t recovered since the win over Utah, with outings against Kentucky and USF making Florida look pedestrian at best.
Anthony Richardson’s Stats Don’t Lie
If you thought it was bad on television, the stats only back it up. Through three games, Anthony Richardson has only thrown for 255 yards, with zero touchdowns and four interceptions. The Gators rank last in the SEC in passing offense and are currently one of three teams in all of college football that doesn’t have a passing touchdown. This stat alone is astonishing, Richardson has more tackles than touchdown passes this season. Yes, you read that right.
I say all of that, to say this: Florida can beat Tennessee if it allows Richardson to take off like a rocket. The Utah game presented a nice sample of what we could expect, with the quarterback rushing the ball 11 times. But following that up with 13 combined carries against Kentucky and USF is clearly evidence that this isn’t working.
Richardson recently was asked about what has changed since the Utah game.
“I don’t even know,” he responded. “I guess I started holding myself back from running, and that’s a part of the offense that helps us move the ball. So I guess I’ve just got to pick that up and bring that back.”
Trusting Richardson Is Key
With a lack of depth at quarterback for Florida, I understand why Billy Napier might be a tad hesitant on his leader running downfield into a defender. But if you try to hold Anthony Richardson back, this team will not succeed. A head coach has to trust his quarterback and let him loose, like what we’re seeing in Lexington with Mark Stoops and Will Levis.
But as Napier pointed out, the success of his quarterback on the run has a lot to do with how Tennessee will scheme its defense.
“I think each game and each week is a little bit different relative to the concepts that are called, how the team’s defending you,” Napier said. “I think teams are very aware that this guy can beat them with his feet. I think you maybe get different structure as a result of that.”
If Florida is going to be in a tight game with Tennessee on Saturday, it has to let Richardson just play ball. The Gators’ success hinges on whether this offense can score enough points. And if Napier thinks his team can hang with the Vols on the scoreboard without Richardson rushing the ball more than 10 times, it will be a rude awakening in the fourth quarter.
This game usually brings us something new every season, whether it be a Hail Mary at the end of regulation or a ‘Gaffney Catch’ or a Jauan Jennings’ burning of Teez Tabor. If we’re going to get to that point in the game where something wild can happen, the Gators will need Anthony Richardson to get them there.