Florida football prevailed in its season opener against the Utah Utes, pulling off an exciting 29-26 win at home to give Billy Napier his first victory with the Gators.
However, it was anything but smooth sailing for the Orange and Blue as things got rough on the very first possession. Not to mention that the visitors were no slouches themselves, coming into the game the reigning Pac-12 champions and ranked in the top 10. But Florida managed to finish the first half with a narrow one-point lead and managed to end up in front when the final horn sounded.
The Gators Wire staff assembled shortly after the game to give their immediate takes in a good, bad and ugly format. Take a look below at each respective member’s immediate reaction to Florida’s big win in the Swamp.
Adam Dubbin - Managing Editor
AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
GOOD: Anthony Richardson looks to be living up to his hype so far. He out-gained the Utes on his own in the first half and willed the Gators to the win on Saturday, finishing with 168 yards passing and 104 on the ground.
BAD: Florida’s running backs coughed up the ball twice, including Montrell Johnson’s hiccup on the first drive that resulted in essentially a 14-point turnaround for the home team.
UGLY: Even under new leadership, the penalty flag continues to fly for Florida. The very first play of the game — the kickoff return — had a flag thrown for holding.
David Rosenberg - Assistant Editor
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
GOOD: Anthony Richardson is the obvious answer here, but honorable mentions go to Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne for thriving in the second half. Also, Amari Burney with the interception to secure the victory after a tough night in coverage. Who could write a better story? A lot to like on Week 1 of the Billy Napier era.
BAD: Tight end coverage. Utah’s Brant Kuithe hauled in nine receptions for 105 yards and a touchdown to lead all pass catchers in the game. If Florida wants any shot at beating Georgia in October, it needs to get much better at defending the position. The Bulldogs have a deeper and more talented position room than Utah, and they will carve the Gators up if things don’t improve.
UGLY: Napier set a goal of committing one penalty per 30 plays as a team to start the year off. The Gators fell short of that goal with seven penalties in the 136 plays made during this game. We can chalk some up to first-game jitters, but they need to be gone by next week’s matchup with Kentucky.
Pat Dooley - Staff Writer
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
GOOD: Anthony Richardson is who we thought he was. The 45-yard touchdown run was a thing of beauty and he ended up with 272 all-purpose yards and three rushing touchdowns. The ball had some real zip on it when he threw and the fourth-down scramble on the final drive was all AR. And the two-point conversion where he faked the pass rusher out with a pump and then found Ja’Quavion Fraziars all alone in the end zone were awesome plays not many could make.
BAD: When Utah came out in the second half, the swamp was ready to take over the game. But the Utes weren’t ranked No. 7 because of their nice white uniforms. They ran the ball on 10 of 11 plays on the first drive (but were stopped at the goal line) and Florida’s thin front seven had a difficult time with Tavion Thomas, who had only 26 rushing yards in the first half and 89 in the second.
UGLY: Nothing. Sorry, but an emotional win that ended with an interception in the end zone was exactly the kind of thing the Gator Nation has been waiting for. The level of enthusiasm the Gators played with was a far cry from the last half of last year and these are basically the same guys. Nope, there was nothing ugly about this win as Billy Napier kept the home winning streak in openers alive at 33.
Sergio De La Espriella - Staff Writer
AP Photo/Gary McCullough
GOOD: I will now be referring to Anthony Richardson as “HIM”. Talk about arriving on the scene. The pump fake, mid-air spin move on the two-point conversion. The expert-level read option and play-action sells. If he can stay healthy, watch out. The running game was night and day compared to previous seasons. The o-line and all three running backs had great days. Ventrell Miller was severely missed last season and is the visible leader of the defense. It’s great to have him back.
BAD: The discipline issues that plagued the Gators under Dan Mullen reared their ugly head, especially in the first half. While the run game was great overall, putting the ball on the ground was still an issue. I found myself yelling “HOLD THE BALL” anytime an opponent was within five feet of the ball carrier.
UGLY: The Gators came out of halftime completely lethargic. Utah’s first drive in particular (until the fantastic goal line stand) was the worst stretch of the game defensively. Taking down the defending Pac-12 champions is fantastic. But if the Gators want to take the next step and compete for SEC and national championships, they’re going to need to tighten up and play four quarters of focused and disciplined football.
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