Florida opened the Billy Napier era with a thrilling upset of a top-10 team in The Swamp, taking down No. 7 Utah 29-26. Anthony Richardson was the X-factor that lifted the Gators to victory.
Richardson was Florida’s top rusher (11 carries, 104 yards, 3 touchdowns) including a highlight 45-yard TD in the second quarter. When the Gators went for 2 to go up 22-19, Richardson made it happen with a dazzling pump fake and spin. With the game on the line, Richardson converted a 4th-down with under 2 minutes left in the game. With 1:25 left, Richardson ran in the go-ahead score.
Turnovers were scarce on Saturday night, but with 17 seconds left, senior linebacker Amari Burney picked off Utah QB Cam Rising in the end zone to seal a 29-26 thrilling victory.
Rising held his own as a visiting QB in The Swamp. He was 22-of-32 passing for 217 yards and a touchdown. As a runner, he rushed 7 times for 90 yards.
The Florida defense had already shown its new toughness with a goal-line stand in the third quarter. Utah fumbled on a 4th-and-goal from the 1-yard line. The Gators flipped the field, but fell short of getting points off a turnover.
Utah was rarely flagged and made few self-inflicted mistakes. The Utes showed no signs of getting worn down by Florida weather or rattled by The Swamp noise.
For much of the night, it was a battle of the ground games. Utah could not be stopped at times, collecting 229 yards and 2 touchdowns on 39 carries. Florida figures to be a run-first team under Napier. Richardson and a 3-man running back committee rushed 39 times for 282 yards and all 4 TDs.
Florida’s opening drive had gone 60 yards on 6 plays before second-string RB Montrell Johnson fumbled the ball away.
Johnson’s fumble set up a 4-play, 18-yard drive to get Utah up 7-0 early despite UF receiving the opening kick.
Florida had another turnover scare when freshman RB Trevor Etienne fumbled, but recovered. Most importantly, Richardson was turnover-free as a passer, going 17-of-24 for 168 yards.
Utah won the 3rd quarter by running the football. The Utes won the battle of halftime adjustments, establishing the run in the second half. Fortunately for the Gators, they had Richardson to keep the offense moving, and scoring.
The Utes kept it on the ground primarily for a 9-play, 89-yard drive. A Micah Bernard 7-yard TD made it 19-14, a score that remained after a failed 2-point try.
Florida fans sing Tom Petty’s “I Won’t Back Down” before the final quarter starts. It seemed to reinvigorate the Gators, as the UF offense roared back to life with an 8-play, 75-yard touchdown drive, the first score in a thrilling final quarter.