Florida vs. Utah score, takeaways: Anthony Richardson stars as Gators upset No. 7 Utes in Billy Napier's debut
The Gators have now won 33 straight home openers, the longest active streak in the nation
One of college football's marquee Week 1 matchups lived up to its billing Saturday night as Florida outlasted No. 7 Utah 29-26 in The Swamp to begin Gators coach Billy Napier's tenure with a statement victory over the reigning Pac-12 champions. Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson put the Gators ahead on a 2-yard touchdown run with 1:25 remaining before linebacker Amari Burney intercepted star Utah QB Cameron Rising in the end zone with 17 seconds left to seal the victory.
In a game that went back and forth all night, Richardson stood out as the star by repeatedly making clutch plays with his arm and legs. Making his first career home start in his hometown of Gainesville, Florida, the sophomore finished 17 of 24 passing for 168 yards, adding 103 yards rushing and a career-high three touchdowns on the ground. In addition to his go-ahead run in the final two minutes, Richardson's breakaway 45-yard touchdown scamper in the second quarter put Florida ahead 14-13 entering halftime.
Rising produced an impressive outing of his own but could not lead the Utes to a game-tying field goal or potential game-wining touchdown on the final drive. He tossed a near-interception early in the final possession before Burney grabbed Rising's pass from inside the 6-yard line on the penultimate play of the game.
Florida running back Montrell Johnson Jr. added 77 yards rushing on 12 carriers and a fourth-quarter touchdown, redeeming himself after a costly fumble on the Gators' first drive of the game. Freshman RB Trevor Etienne scampered for 64 yards on five carries in his first career game. Richardson also had help from Arizona State transfer wide receiver Ricky Pearsall, who caught four passes for 67 yards to lead all Gators pass catchers.
Utah entered the season with College Football Playoff aspirations, but those met early peril at the hands of a hungry Florida team that looked poised to put last season's 6-7 record in the past as the Napier era gets underway. Napier became the first coach in program history to lead the Gators to a victory over a ranked opponent in his first game as Florida continued the nation's longest active winning streak with a victory in its 33rd consecutive home opener.
What did we learn from the the Gators' dramatic victory over the Utes? Let's break down three takeaways from Saturday night's game.
Richardson is a star
Johnson and Etienne provided substantive contributions on the ground, and Pearsall shined in his debut, but Richardson was the clear MVP for Florida. After fighting for the starting job last season with Emory Jones, who has since transferred to Arizona State, Richardson looked like one of the 2022 season's potential breakout stars. It's no surprise that some have him projected as a first-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft.
Though his three touchdown runs stood out, particularly the 45-yard streak down the left sideline, Richardson's 2-point conversion pass with 12:48 remaining may have been the play of the game. Richardson eluded a pair of pass rushers with a pump fake that bought him enough time to find Ja'Quavion Fraziars wide open in the corner of the end zone to put the Gators ahead 22-19 following Johnson's touchdown run.
Without the 2-point conversion, a mere field goal may have been enough to put Utah ahead in the game's closing seconds, and Rising would likely have never taken the shot to the end zone that resulted in Burney's game-clinching interception.
Utah's new ceiling
Throughout the offseason, Utah was anointed the Pac-12's best hope of snapping a CFP drought that dates back to 2016. After going toe to toe with Ohio State in a Rose Bowl loss to cap the 2021 season, the Utes brought back 14 starters to one of the nation's most-established programs under coach Kyle Whittingham, who began his 18th year with the program Saturday night.
While a Week 1 loss doesn't completely eliminate Utah from CFP contention, it removes any margin for error and makes the task particularly daunting. The Utes started 1-2 last season with losses to BYU and San Diego State and still managed to win the Pac-12 but finished 11th in the CFP Rankings, well out of true contention.
With Oregon, USC and Washington all breaking in new head coaches, Utah still has an excellent opportunity to repeat as conference champions. Once again, however, there's little benefit of the doubt for a Pac-12 favorite when it comes to the playoff picture. With Utah's loss, the conference is 1-8 against SEC teams in Week 1 over the last 11 seasons. Pac-12 teams were ranked in seven of those eight losses.
Redemption is sweet
Florida's defense looked improved under new co-coordinators Patrick Toney and Sean Spencer following Todd Grantham's lackluster tenure in the role under previous coach Dan Mullen. However, Utah had consistent success finding tight end Brant Kuithe, who finished with nine catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Often times, it was Burney who was matched up with Kuithe, a three-time All-Pac 12 performer. However, any shortcomings from the senior linebacker's performance were more than atoned for with his game-saving interception. The fifth-year senior will be remembered as a hero for his diving snag with the game on the line.
Burney is not the only one who redeemed himself Saturday. Johnson, whose fumble on the drive of the game ultimately led to Utah's first touchdown, not only held onto the ball for the remainder of the contest but made the most of his touches. The transfer, who followed Napier from Louisiana to Florida, was the Gators' leading rusher with 89 total yards and a score on the evening.
DHFJASHFLJHSADLFJHSL;DAFJ— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) September 4, 2022
Tune in on ESPN if you can, because this finish is something. Utah is driving, needing a field goal to tie. 45 seconds left but no timeouts for the Utes.
Anthony Richardson (again!)
Wow, we heard rumors all camp about how good Anthony Richardson looked in the preseason. It's now clear why. The redshirt sophomore is the STAR of this Florida team, and he just put the Gators ahead of No. 7 Utah with 1:25 left with that 2-yard touchdown run.
Down to the wire
Florida is not moving with a ton of urgency, which means this possession is growing larger and larger as each second ticks off the clock with the Gators trailing 26-22. Florida now faces a fourth-and-short with under 2 minutes left in Utah territory. No choice but to go for it. Look for Anthony Richardson to make a play -- as he has repeatedly tonight.
This game is an incredible battle, and Utah just threw the latest punch. Tavion Thomas pounds it in from four yards out to cap a 73-yard scoring drive. The PAT is good to make it a 26-22 game. Thomas is over 100 yards on the ground and has been much more effective in the second half. But now Anthony Richardson gets the football back, which is great news for Florida. The guy has been a star all night.
Utah had a third-and-1 but it turned in to a third-and-6 after a false start attributable to crowd noise. Nevertheless, the Utes convert over the middle with Brant Kuithe apparently feeling no ill-effects of his earlier leg issue. Utah on the move here with under 10 minutes remaining in a game UF leads 22-19.
Florida back ahead
Montrell Johnson just made up for his fumble in the first quarter with a 14-yard touchdown run to put Florida back on top. That run capped an 8 play, 75-yard response for the Gators after Utah retook the lead. Florida converted a 2-point conversion with a beautiful play from Anthony Richardson to make it a 3-point game: 22-19.
On its second possession of the second half, Utah does what it couldn't on the opening series of the third quarter and finishes an impressive drive. That's 9 plays and 89 yards for the Utes, who get a TD run from Micah Bernard to retake the lead. Two-point conversion fails. 19-14 with 12 seconds left in the quarter.
After a 37-yard completion over the middle from Cameron Rising to Brant Kuithe, it appears that Kuithe is either cramping or dealing with a hamstring. Utah's star tight end has been a focal point of the offense tonight, and the Utes may be in trouble if he can't return. He walks off on his own, but his availability will be something to monitor.
Update: he returned a couple plays later.
The Gators rode the momentum of the big goal-line stand to a couple of first downs, but the drive stalled at midfield when Anthony Richardson fired incomplete on third-and-11. But UF did well to flip the field position after taking over on its own 1-yard-line. Still 14-13 Gators as Utah takes over for its second series of the half.
WHAT A STOP. 😤— Florida Gators Football (@GatorsFB) September 4, 2022
What a stand
Utah came out of the locker room with a vengeance, driving the length of the field almost exclusively with the run, showing some of the physicality it lacked in the first half. But in the end, it came down to a fourth-and-goal from the Florida 1-yard-line. Tavion Thomas was RULED DOWN. Florida will take over. Play stood as called after review. That's a game-defining play there.