The Florida Gators are in need of a bounce-back win heading into Week 3 of the college football season, and the USF Bulls are the perfect opponent to really see what the offense is capable of.
All eyes are on Anthony Richardson, of course, following a poor performance in Week 2. He jumped into the Heisman conversation after leading the Gators to a season-opening win over No. 7 Utah, but Kentucky’s defense gave him nightmares. The national media will be watching to see if he can return to form against a low-level foe.
UF faces Tennessee next week, and that’s now a must-win game if the Gators want to stay in the SEC East conversation. Think of this as a test run of sorts for another big clash between conference rivals.
Here are five things to look for when Florida hosts USF on Saturday.
A better performance from Anthony Richardson
AP Photo/John Raoux
After a Jekyll and Hyde performance through the first two weeks of the season, all eyes will once again be on Florida’s starting quarterback, [autotag]Anthony Richardson[/autotag]. Against Utah, Richardson looked like every bit of the first-round picks experts projected him as over the offseason, but last Saturday was a completely different story. Versus Kentucky, he completed just 14 of 35 pass attempts (40.0%) for 143 yards and threw a pair of interceptions while failing to score.
However, Napier hit the nail on the head in his post-game press conference when he said that one game does not define Anthony Richardson’s career. The Kentucky loss was merely a chapter in a book with plenty of blank pages left to tell a compelling story. Richardson needs to bounce back fast, though, and USF is the perfect opponent.
In last year’s meeting between the two programs, Richardson had a perfect passer rating after connecting on all three of his attempts for 152 yards and two scores. He added another 115 yards and a score on the ground, so expect some big numbers this week if Richardson is truly back to form.
UAA Communications photo by Jordan McKendrick
[autotag]Ventrell Miller[/autotag] and [autotag]Michael Tarquin[/autotag] were the first two starters to go down for the Gators this season when they left last week’s game each dealing with a lower body injury. Napier confirmed that the two would miss action this week but gave no timetable for a return.
Miller went down after the second week of the season in 2021 and never returned, so it’s worth monitoring how the replacements do against USF in case they become permanent starters. Jeremiah [autotag]Scooby Williams[/autotag] and [autotag]Shemar James[/autotag] are the two names to watch for at the linebacker position with Miller down. James has seen decent snaps as a true freshman, but Williams is listed as the starter for now.
[autotag]Austin Barber[/autotag] will step into the starting right tackle role with Tarquin down. The silver lining here is that Tarquin was the least experienced member of Florida’s offensive line, and Barber is a competent backup. It does eat into the eight or nine guys Napier said he was comfortable playing on the line, but depth was always going to be an issue this season.
[autotag]Josh Braun[/autotag] shifts over to the backup left tackle spot, [autotag]Kamryn Waites[/autotag] is now the backup right tackle and freshman [autotag]Jalen Farmer[/autotag] joined the two-deep as the second-string right guard.
If the running back by committee plan works
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[autotag]Nay’Quan Wright[/autotag] has been listed as the starting running back for the Florida Gators through each of the first three weeks of the season, but he hasn’t led the team in carries (or yards) yet. [autotag]Montrell Johnson Jr[/autotag]. and [autotag]Trevor Etienne[/autotag] have been steady contributors to the Gators’ running game, and Napier says they’ll continue to utilize all three players for now.
“We’re very much a running back by committee group,” Napier said during the Week 3 SEC teleconference. “That’s been our philosophy for a long time. We’ve been one of the best rushing teams in the country. Those players have went to play in the National Football League. Montrell, Trevor and Nay’Quan, those guys are next up.”
Napier’s plan worked at ULL just fine. The Ragin’ Cajuns were consistently among the top teams in the country in terms of rushing yards and they often had multiple backs with 100+ carries.
The interesting note here is that Etienne and Johnson have been far more productive than Wright through the first two weeks of the season. Does that mean Wright should lose touches? Does it mean Lorenzo Lingard should be getting more than zero? The USF game should answer some of these questions and tell us how committed Napier is to this “three-headed monster.”
Who steps up on defense
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
The loss of Ventrell Miller is big, and we’ve discussed who will be taking over his physical spot on the defense, but the team now needs an emotional leader to step up in his place. Defensive lineman [autotag]Gervon Dexter Sr[/autotag]. called him the “quarterback of the defense,” and there’s no downplaying what the loss means to the team after seeing the unit collapse in 2021 following Miller’s departure. That’s why someone needs to step up.
Dexter is the easy answer. He’s a potential first-rounder who seems to understand the importance of having a leader on the field. But I like the other veteran player that returned for an extra season to be the guy, and that’s safety [autotag]Trey Dean III[/autotag]. He leads the team in tackles and is one of the few returning starters on that side of the ball.
Dean has a bad habit of biting on the run, which hurts him in coverage at times, but he still has the most experience on the field. USF won’t be too tough to handle, making it the perfect game for the defense to figure things out from a chemistry standpoint.
A blowout victory
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No coach likes losing, but there’s something about Billy Napier that screams he hates it. In his first year at Louisiana, the Ragin’ Cajuns took some big losses early on to No. 16 Mississippi State and No. 1 Alabama. They responded with a 42-27 victory over Texas State and a 66-38 throttling of New Mexico State.
Not every loss resulted in some blowout result the week after, but Napier demands excellence from his team. It would be very Dan Mullen to lazily come into this game after a loss and point to a winning score after a lackluster effort. But that’s not Napier. Expect Florida to be aggressive and to run up the score as much as possible to regain some confidence heading into a matchup with Tennessee.
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