Anthony Richardson leads Florida to thrilling 29-26 upset victory over No. 7 Utah

Anthony Richardson made sure Billy Napier’s head coaching debut at Florida was memorable.

Richardson, the Gators’ electric second-year quarterback, helped Florida beat No. 7 Utah 29-26 in front of a raucous home crowd in the Everglades.

While Utah was able to limit Richardson’s passing game to mostly the bottom line, he couldn’t stop on the ground. Richardson rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries, including a winning yard plunge with 1:25 left. He also finished with a 45-yard touchdown late in the first half and scored from two yards in the first quarter.

Led by Richardson, Florida’s offense amassed 284 yards on the ground and nearly 7.5 yards per rush. Whenever Utah’s defense needs to stop, Richardson or one of his backs gets enough power to keep the drive going. Crucially, Richardson evaded pressure from Utah 26’s No. 4 and No. 2 and ran for nine yards in Florida’s game-winning game.

However, after that Richardson touchdown, Utah still had a chance. Cam Rising led Utah’s offense all the way down to Florida’s 6-yard line. With less than 30 seconds left in the game, Utah would have wanted to win, but his shooting percentage could force overtime.

Instead, Rising forced a player into the end zone and was intercepted by Amari Burney.

Bernie’s interception delivered a thrilling win for the Gators and also broke the hearts of the Utes, which many expected to be a potential contender heading into this season’s college football playoffs.

It was an opportunity for Utah to make a big statement, but the Gators acted as spoilers, giving Napier his first win in the SEC.

Florida State quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) scores a touchdown during the second quarter of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

Florida State quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) scores a touchdown during the second quarter of an NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)

Utah nears key early-season win

Utah is so close to escaping Gainesville with a win.

Like Florida, Utah leads with a sudden offense on the offensive end. Tavion Thomas finished with 23 carries for 115 yards and a touchdown, while Rising had 90 yards on seven runs.

The defending Pac-12 champ led most of the first half and led 19-14 going into the fourth quarter thanks to a touchdown by Micah Bernard.

On the subsequent kickoff, Richardson led the Gators back into the field when Montrell Johnson Jr. scored from 14 yards. That touchdown led 20-19, and Richardson’s stunning individual effort on a two-point conversion gave the Gators a 22-19 lead.

Utah fought back immediately on the next possession, advancing for 73 yards in 11 games to get back in front 26-22 with 6:26 left.

This set the stage for Richardson to win the game. The Gators had 14 game-winners, 12 of which were runs. In the process, it became clear that Napier was trying to take as much time as possible.

UF ended up leaving the Utes at 1:25, but what started out as a brilliant drive from Rising ended in disaster.

This is the second time Utah has lost without a goal in the second half. With Florida leading 14-13 early in the third quarter, the Utes were stuffed with the fourth and goal of the first quarter.

The two goal-line mistakes turned out to be very costly.

What does this mean for Utah?

That’s a huge loss for the Pac-12, a conference battling perception issues. Utah is expected to be the best team in the Pac-12, but can’t beat Florida, which is projected to be in the middle of the SEC East rankings.

The reality is a little more subtle. Florida is a very tough place to play, especially at night when Utah takes on the Gators under a new coaching staff with an elite quarterback. Florida State could end up doing much better than preseason forecasters expected.

Utah may go on to have another great season, but if Utah finds itself in the CFP hunt a few months from now, a win at the position will go a long way.

What does this mean for Florida?

It’s an excellent way to start Napier’s tenure.

Florida State won a total of 29 games from 2018 to 2020, but things derailed in 2021, leading to the firing of Dan Mullen. The Gators won’t be back in contention for the SEC title overnight, but it’s a positive first sign for Napier’s regime.

Napier built Louisiana into one of the best projects in the Sun Belt. The Ragin’ Cajuns are disciplined and always walk the line in their running races. In his first year in Florida, with Richardson hosting the show, it looks like the Gators will follow a similar blueprint.

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