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Gators’ Richardson puts on show in upset of Utah

12: 40 AM ET

  • Andrea AdelsonESPN Senior Writer

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    • ACC reporter.
    • Joined ESPN.com in 2010.
    • Graduate of the University of Florida.

GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson had shown flashes of his potential as a backup for the Gators last season. On Saturday, he showed just what he could do as their starter.

Richardson had 274 total yards and three touchdowns as Florida upset No. 7 Utah 29-26 before a raucous 90,799, the biggest crowd for a season opener in school history. He did everything the Gators needed with one highlight play after another — from the dazzling two-point conversion that left multiple defenders lying on the turf, to an enormous fourth-and-2 conversion, to the game-winning 2-yard touchdown run with 1: 25 remaining.

Richardson finished with a career-high three rushing touchdowns Saturday after entering the overall game with three rushing touchdowns in his career. The performance helped coach Billy Napier get his first win at Florida while handing the Utes a heartbreaking loss to open a season that began as a dark-horse College Football Playoff choice.

“My partner could call plays with that guy at quarterback,” Napier said of Richardson. “His legs, they’re an improvement maker. You saw it tonight. The fourth-down play, within the last drive. The two-point conversion, After all, seriously. He did that identical part of practice 1 day. I’m discussing the precise scenario.

“I believe we’re determining here that guy’s a fairly special player.”

Richardson said he previously pregame jitters but worked them out following the first few series. With the overall game at risk and Florida trailing 26-22 with the clock winding down, Richardson said Napier told him to go score the overall game winner.

“My heart sort of froze,” Richardson said. “I’d hardly ever really heard those words. Especially in times like this, with a crowd as large as that. Just getting the ball in my own hands, Personally i think just like the team trusts me. The coaches believe me to create a play, make something happen. I’m glad they believe me for that.”

Still, Utah got the ball back with 1: 25 left in the overall game and drove completely right down to the Florida 6-yard line. On second-and-goal, Amari Burney intercepted Cameron Rising ultimately zone to clinch the victory. The interception marred a good performance from Rising, who went 22-of-32 for 216 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 91 yards.

“It wasn’t Cam’s best throw,” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “I’m sure he’d like this back.”

Utah missed several opportunities in debt zone that ultimately cost the Utes the victory. Twice, they got in the 6-yard line, and then develop zero points. Florida, meanwhile, converted its red zone trips into touchdowns.

Sometimes, the Utah offense pushed Florida all around the field, including on those two red-zone drives. Utah had 230 yards rushing and averaged 5.9 yards per carry. But Florida found a method to make the plays when it counted, and its own offensive line found a method to push Utah around, too. The Gators rushed for 283 yards and four touchdowns, averaging 7.3 yards a carry.

Plenty of that is due to Richardson, who had 106 yards on the floor. His capability to run and create plays makes him a dynamic player, person who still includes a full season before him to keep to boost.

But perhaps a lot more than what Richardson did is what Florida showed in a casino game that transpired to the wire.

This past year, Florida lost six of its final nine games after starting the growing season ranked No. 13 in the preseason rankings. Coach Dan Mullen was fired prior to the season even ended, as much questioned the direction of this program because their rapid decline appeared to happen so fast.

Napier came in and emphasized a disciplined approach, and something on offense that could have to depend on the run, because of Richardson and the running back room, including Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson Jr. and true freshman Trevor Etienne, younger brother of Jacksonville Jaguars running back Travis Etienne.

Napier noted when he took the work, one of is own friends who had worked at Florida previously told him that this program had probably the most competitive players he previously ever been with us. He believes that competitiveness allowed Florida to pull the upset win.

“This group’s got fight inside it,” Napier said. “They have got a small amount of another edge about them. The execution wasn’t always what we wanted on the market and we have so much work to accomplish. We were fortunate to overcome many mistakes tonight, however the intangibles that the team showed, they continued to respond till the end plus they made a play.

“We have work to accomplish. We won a casino game, and it’s a particular moment. We will appreciate it and we will keep coming back in tomorrow and obtain ready for SEC play.”

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