florida vs. Utah score, takeaways: Anthony Richardson shines as Gators upset No. 7 Utes on Billy Napier debut

One of the week 1 matchups of college football met its billing Saturday night as Florida No. 7 Utah survived 29-26 in The Swamp to start Gators coach Billy Napier’s tenure with a statement win over the reigning Pac -12 champions. Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson gave the Gators the lead on a 2-yard touchdown run with 1:25 left before linebacker Amari Burney intercepted star Utah QB Cameron Rising in the end zone with 17 seconds left to seal the win.

In a game that went back and forth all night, Richardson stood out as the star both in the air and on the ground by repeatedly making pairing games with his arm and legs. The sophomore made his first career at home in his hometown of Gainesville, Florida, finishing 17 of 24 passes for 168 yards, rushing 103 yards and adding three touchdowns on the ground. In addition to his leading run in the last two minutes, his second quarter 45-yard touchdown sprinter gave Florida a 14-13 lead going into halftime.

Rising produced an impressive performance of their own, but failed to lead the Utes to an tying field goal or a possible game-winning touchdown on the final drive. Florida running back Montrell Johnson Jr. added 77 yards rushing off 12 carriers and a fourth quarter touchdown, cashing in on a costly fumble on the Gators’ first drive of the game.

Utah went into the season with College Football Playoff ambitions, but those were jeopardized early on by a hungry Florida team that looked poised to break last season’s 6-7 record in the past now that the Napier era begins.

What have we learned from the Gators’ dramatic victory over the Utes? Let’s break down three takeaways from Saturday night’s game.

Richardson is a star

Johnson and real freshman Trevor Etienne made substantial contributions on the field, and Arizona State transfer receiver Ricky Pearsall looked good on his debut, but Richardson was the clear MVP for the Gators. After battling for the runway last season with Emory Jones, who has since been transferred to the state of Arizona, Richardson looked like one of the potential breakthrough stars of the 2022 season.

While his three touchdown runs stood out, his 2-point conversion pass with 12:48 remaining may have been the game of the game. Richardson dodged some pass rushers with a fake pump that gave him enough time to find Ja’Quavion Fraziars with a strike in the corner of the endzone.

The game gave Florida a 22-19 lead. Without the 2-point conversion, a field goal might have been enough to put Utah ahead in the closing seconds, and Rising probably never would have taken the shot to the end zone that resulted in Burney’s game-changing interception.

Utah’s New Ceiling

Throughout the off-season, Utah was the Pac-12’s best hope of breaking through a CFP drought dating back to 2016. After beating Ohio State in a Rose Bowl loss to close out the 2021 season, the Utes brought 14 starters back to one of the nation’s most established programs under 18-year-old coach Kyle Whittingham.

While a Week 1 loss doesn’t quite take Utah out of the CFP fray, it takes away any margin of error and makes the task seem particularly daunting. However, Utah started last season 1-2 losing to BYU and San Diego State and still managed to win the Pac-12.

With Oregon, USC and Washington all bringing in new head coaches, the Utes still have an excellent chance to repeat as conference champions. Again, though, 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 of the past 11 seasons. Pac-12 teams were also ranked in seven of those eight losses.

Burney’s Redemption

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 head 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 it was Burney who was paired with Kuithe, a three-time All-Pac 12 performer. However, any shortcomings in the senior linebacker’s performance were more than made up for with his game-saving interception. The fifth-year senior will be remembered as a hero for his diving problem with the game at stake.

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