Major takeaways from Florida’s bounce-back win over Texas A&M

The Florida Gators went into College Station and walked out of Kyle Field victorious after a hard-fought battle against a weakened Texas A&M team.

The game started off very competitively, with both offenses firing on all cylinders. Each club scored on their first three drives, and Florida found itself trailing 24-21 at the half. Much like what happened in the Georgia game, the Gators’ defense came out of the half inspired and held the Aggies scoreless through the final 30 minutes of the game. Meanwhile, Anthony Richardson and Co. picked up right where they left off and scored three more touchdowns to secure the 41-24 victory.

This is the best Florida’s offense has looked all year, and that might be true for the defense as well, especially in the second half. Now 5-4 with South Carolina and Vanderbilt up ahead, the Gators control their own destiny. A New Year’s Six game might be out of the question, but winning out would put Florida in a nice spot to finish out Year 1 of the Billy Napier Era.

Here are five major takeaways from Florida’s win over Texas A&M and what it means for the team’s future.

Anthony Richardson has all the tools to be great

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[autotag]Anthony Richardson[/autotag] was great in this one. He completed 17 of 28 pass attempts for 201 yards and two touchdowns while adding 78 yards and two rushing touchdowns on seven carries. The completion percentage is still a little low, but Gators fans will gladly take this version of Richardson over the one that struggles to make a read against a middle-of-the-pack defense.

Perhaps the most exciting statistic of the afternoon was Richardson’s clean bill in the turnover department. He hasn’t thrown an interception since Oct. 8 and kept the ball off the ground this week. Nipping the turnover bug would be big for Richardson, especially in the eyes of NFL scouts.

Richardson is starting to look like the player everyone in Gainesville expects him to be, but another year in the Swamp might benefit him. He certainly has the tools necessary to succeed at the next level — a rocket arm and the ability to scramble for a 60-yard touchdown — but refining those skills and gaining a bit more consistency would go a long way once he gets to the league.

Trevor Etienne is the future of Florida football

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As great as Richardson was, [autotag]Montrell Johnson Jr[/autotag]. and [autotag]Trevor Etienne[/autotag] might have been even better against a porous Texas A&M defense.

Johnson went for 100 yards and a touchdown on 22 carries, and Etienne racked up 80 yards on 17 carries. When you add in Richardson’s 78 yards and receiver [autotag]Ricky Pearsall[/autotag]’s 34 yards on three carries, Florida’s rushing attack totaled 291 yards and three scores. Those numbers are solid enough to stand alone, but it would be criminal not to give these guys a bit more attention.

While Johnson is the more experienced player and was the 100-yard rusher against the Aggies, Etienne’s upside as a true freshman can’t be ignored. He’s explosive with a low center of gravity that allows him to make devastating cuts and get into the open field. Dare I say there’s a little Barry Sanders in his game when he’s at his best?

Etienne could be a national phenomenon next season, and Johnson will still be around as a third-year player knocking on the door of the NFL draft. Florida’s running game is bordering on elite during a down year, but it could be even better if Napier revamps the offensive line through the transfer portal.

No Cox, no problem

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Billy Napier dismissed starting JACK linebacker [autotag]Brenton Cox Jr[/autotag]. at the start of the week, and there was some concern over how an already weak defense would fare without an NFL-bound talent on the field. There were probably a few who figured that things couldn’t get any worse on that side of the ball, but no one expected the Gators to have one of their better defensive performances of the season on the road against Texas A&M.

Cox’s replacement, [autotag]Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr[/autotag]., finished tied for second on the team with six tackles (three solo), provided one of the team’s two sacks on the day and forced a fumble. That’s a pretty solid outing, even if Texas A&M was down a ton of starters due to injury and sickness.

[autotag]Princely Umanmielen[/autotag] also stepped up at defensive end, hurrying King Hayes twice and picking up the other sack for the team.

Make no mistake, Cox’s dismissal was a net loss for the team, at least in terms of talent, but the production isn’t exactly dropping off in the fallout of his departure.

Florida's defense still has work to do, though

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As much fun as it is to praise a strong defensive effort, Florida’s defense wasn’t playing well until the second half of the game. Texas A&M scored in four of its first five drives before running into the wall and letting the game get away from it.

Evan Stewart — who could have been a Gator if the last staff was half as enthusiastic about recruiting as Napier’s is — looked every bit of a five-star caliber athlete and torched Florida’s secondary for 180 yards on eight catches. Let the record show that he was targeted 17 times throughout the afternoon, so Florida had its fair share of decent coverage.

Slot receiver Moose Muhammad III nearly broke the 100-yard mark (99 on seven catches), and running back Devon Archane put up 122 yards on 16 carries. Had the Aggies had a little more depth to fall back on in the second half, Florida might have struggled a bit more to shut down what started as an incredibly potent attack.

This is the second game in a row that Florida’s defense has come out of the half with some fire, but the Gators are going to need a full 60-minute effort if they’re going to make any noise down the stretch.

So you're saying there's a chance?

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This was the end of Florida’s “tough stretch,” and now the Gators get South Carolina at home, Vanderbilt on the road and Florida State in Tallahassee to close out the season. If UF can win out, the team will finish the regular season with an 8-4 record and be in a decent spot to play in a bowl game.

There’s been a bit of gloom and doom surrounding the program in recent weeks, but this win should boost the team’s confidence in a major way. Winning at Kyle Field isn’t easy, and Jimbo Fisher’s seat is significantly hotter than Billy Napier’s following this win. Napier was never in danger of losing the job after a single year at the helm, but fans did begin to get concerned after falling to 4-4 overall and 1-4 against the conference.

Breathe, Gators fans. This season can still be a success, and the team might have some fun along the way. Let’s see if this win can snowball and turn into something great.

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Story originally appeared on Gators Wire