Amari Burney's diving interception in end zone seals Florida's win over No. 8 Utah
Florida football upset No. 8 Utah 29-26 before a raucous, sold-out atmosphere of 90,777 at The Swamp on Saturday night in head coach Billy Napier's debut.
Napier became the first Florida coach in program history to beat a ranked team in his coaching debut. Florida also extended its nation-best win streak in home openers to 33 straight games.
Napier credited the crowd for playing a role in the outcome of the game and his players for responding to adversity throughout the contest.
"Sometimes you get caught up in the event but what's rewarding (is) when you know what went into the game, the preparation," Napier said.
Quarterback Anthony Richardson rushed for three touchdowns, including the go-ahead, 2-yard TD run with 1:25 left to put the Gators up 29-26. Then, linebacker Amari Burney sealed the win with Florida's only turnover of the game, a pick in the end zone in the closing seconds to hold off a late drive by Utah quarterback Cameron Rising.
"Definitely a big win for us," Richardson said. "First game in The Swamp, Coach Napier's first game in The Swamp. We just knocked off a top ranked team. It's a lot of good energy in the locker room.
"I feel like it boosted some guys' confidence. A lot of people doubted us, that's how the world works, some people love you and some people don't. So we just fought through it and won the game."
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Here are five takeaways from the game:
Quarterback Anthony Richardson is the real deal
There were questions about how Richardson would handle his second career start, and first in The Swamp, against a high-level opponent like Utah. Richardson stayed within himself while making plays, showing both the speed, arm strength and athleticism that have NFL scouts drooling about his pro potential. Richardson scored on two touchdown runs in the first half, including a 45-yard scramble late in the second quarter that gave the Gators a 14-13 lead and sent the fans into a frenzy.
Richardson showed another gear in blowing past Utah safety Cole Bishop, who attempted to take an angle on the play for a tackle.
"We work on stuff like that in practice all the time," Richardson said. "The QBs don't necessarily do the drill, but I definitely watch the receivers on sideline tackles. I just squared him up, tried to make a move and scored the touchdown."
He eluded a Utah defender on a nifty move to throw a 2-point conversion to put the Gators up 22-19 early in the fourth quarter, then converted a four-and-2 on a scramble on the game's final drive.
Richardson scored two of his three rushing TDs on read-option plays, including the game-winning score in which Napier called his number.
"Just having the ball in my hands, I feel like the team trusts me, the coaches trust me to make a play," Richardson said.
Richardson wound up with 168 yards passing and a team-high 106 yards rushing on 9.6 yards per carry.
"What I love about Anthony is he's probably thinking about the six or eight plays he could have done better," Napier said. "He's critical of himself. He's a humble competitor. We all know the kid has got physical talent but what's impressed me is his work ethic, his discipline, his attention to detail."
Redemption for Montrell Johnson
Sophomore Montrell Johnson Jr. lost a fumble on Florida's opening drive, but Napier stuck with the Louisiana transfer, who put the Gators up 20-19 in the fourth quarter on a 14-yard touchdown run. Johnson wound up with 12 carries for 75 yards, best among running backs.
"Montrell is a good kid, he's a smart kid and he's got character," Napier said. "Very much a worker and he's a very disciplined kid. He was very productive for us at Louisiana."
Turnover margin even between Gators, Utes
Florida and Utah played to an even 1-1 turnover margin. Johnson's fumble and subsequent 45-yard return by Utah safety R.J. Hubert set up Utah's opening score. But after Ventrell Miller dropped a potential game-clinching interception late, Burney came up with an interception that clinched the win.
Burney credited defensive coordinator P.J. Toney for the play call that led to the interception and said he was able to read Rising's eyes on the play.
"Shout out to Ventrell for dropping the pick, the first one," Burney said. "I thanked him for that. I just knew I had to come up with it ... it was there, it was catchable."
Gators' run defense inconsistent
After holding Utah to 59 yards rushing in the first half, Florida's run defense wilted in the third quarter. Utah went to a bunch of double-tight end sets to rush for 97 yards in the third quarter, including a 7-yard TD run by Micah Bernard. It didn't get much better in the fourth quarter as a 4-yard TD run by Tavion Thomas put the Utes ahead 26-22.
Brenton Cox and Princely Umanmielen did come up big with a combined tackle on a goal-line stand early in the third quarter, but Florida still needs to work on sustaining tackling for 60 minutes. Utah finished the game with 230 yards rushing on 39 carries, with 181 of those yards coming in the second half.
"At certain times the defense played very well and at certain times we didn't," Burney said.
Penalties still a bit of a problem
Florida didn't play its cleanest game in Napier's debut. Napier had made cutting down on penalties an emphasis in fall camp, bringing in SEC officials for scrimmages. But UF tight end Dante Zanders had a hold on the opening return of the game, which set the Gators back to their own 8-yard line.
Another holding penalty on a kickoff return in the second quarter resulted in poor field position, as UF was forced to start the drive at its own 10. Florida was flagged seven times for 38 yards.