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

Anthony Richardson made Billy Napier’s head coaching debut at Florida one to remember.

Richardson, the Gators’ electric sophomore linebacker, made play after play to help Florida upset No. 7 Utah, 29-26, in front of a raucous crowd at the Swamp.

While Utah was able to limit Richardson to shots mostly downfield in the passing game, it couldn’t be stopped on the ground. Richardson rushed for 104 yards and three touchdowns on just 11 carries, including the game-winning one-yard plunge with 1:25 left. He also had a 45-yard touchdown run late in the first half and scored from two yards out in the first quarter.

With Richardson leading the way, the Florida offense racked up 284 yards on the ground at a clip of nearly 7.5 yards per rush. Whenever Utah’s defense needed a stop, Richardson or one of his running backs would get enough to keep drives alive. The most critical of the group was Richardson escaping pressure and breaking free for nine yards on a fourth-and-2 from the Utah 26 in Florida’s game-winning drive.

After that Richardson touchdown, though, Utah still had one more shot. Cam Rising led the Utah offense all the way to the Florida 6-yard line. With less than 30 seconds on the clock, Utah was going for the win, but was able to force overtime with a chip shot goal.

Instead, Rising forced one into traffic in the end zone and was intercepted by Amari Burney.

Burney’s interception capped a thrilling win for the Gators and a heartbreaking win for the Utes, who were projected by many as potential College Football Playoff contenders entering the season.

This was a chance for Utah to make a huge statement, but the Gators played spoiler and gave Napier his first SEC win.

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

Utah almost got the crucial win early in the season

Utah came this close to escaping Gainesville with a win.

Like Florida, Utah was led offensively by its rushing attack. Tavion Thomas had 115 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries while Rising had 90 yards on seven carries.

The defending Pac-12 champions led for much of the first half and took a 19-14 lead into the fourth quarter thanks to a Micah Bernard touchdown run.

On the ensuing drive, Richardson drove the Gators right down the field to retake the lead when Montrell Johnson Jr. scored from 14 meters out. That touchdown made the lead 20-19, and an incredible solo effort by Richardson on the two-point conversion gave the Gators a 22-19 advantage.

Utah broke right back on the next drive, going 73 yards in 11 plays to get back in front 26-22 with 6:26 left.

That set the stage for Richardson to win the game. The Gators’ game-winning streak lasted 14 games, 12 of which were streaks. Along the way, it was obvious that Napier was trying to milk as much time off the clock as possible.

UF ended up with 1:25 left for the Utes, but what initially was a great drive by the Rising turned into a disaster.

What does this mean for Utah?

This is a tough loss for the Pac-12, a conference battling a perception problem. Utah is expected to be the best team in the Pac-12, yet they couldn’t beat a Florida team expected to finish in the middle of the pack in the SEC East.

The reality of the situation is a bit more subtle. Florida is a really tough place to play, especially at night, and Utah hit the Gators under a new coaching staff with an elite quarterback. Florida could end up being much better than season prognosticators expected.

And Utah could go on to have another great season, but a win at this point would go a long way if Utah finds itself in the CFP hunt a few months from now.

What does this mean for Florida?

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

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

Napier built Louisiana into one of the best programs in the Sun Belt. The Ragin’ Cajuns were disciplined and were always physical in the run game. In Year 1 at Florida with Richardson running the show, it looks like the Gators will follow a similar plan.

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