Florida Football Friday Final: Gators, Anthony Richardson aim to bounce back vs. South Florida

By OnlyGators.com Staff
September 16, 2022
Florida Football Friday Final: Gators, Anthony Richardson aim to bounce back vs. South Florida
Football

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

After just two weeks, the No. 18 Florida Gators have already experienced the highest of highs and lowest of lows across a football season. That’s what happens when you upset a top-10 opponent in Week 1 only to yourself get upset by a lower-ranked rival seven days later.

That makes Saturday’s game against the South Florida Bulls a welcome affair. Not only because the Gators will be able to enjoy home cooking for the third straight week but also because the Bulls, candidly, have not been a good program over the last few seasons. South Florida has not put together a winning campaign since 2018, going 7-26 across the last three seasons before starting 1-1 this year.

Now led by Jeff Scott, a former co-offensive coordinator and peer of Florida head coach Billy Napier’s for three seasons at Clemson, USF like UF itself is looking to turn a page to a brighter future.

Jeff’s a bright young coach, and his team is playing extremely hard. You can see the effort. You can see the toughness, the Week 1-2 improvement, certainly some of the changes they made on the staff from a defensive standpoint, “Napier said of Saturday’s opponent. “So, Jeff’s growing that program up, and certainly you can see it on the film. Tons of respect for what he’s doing and how they’re doing it.”

While the Bulls are aiming to improve, so are the Gators, which were met with their first legitimate adversity in last week’s loss. Napier’s focus this week — and every week — is evaluating how Florida plays in certain circumstances over the course of a game, independent of the result. By doing so, he believes the program can benefit in the long term as opposed to through a week to week developmental basis.

“When you’re presented with challenges and adversity in life, there’s opportunity, and it’s important that we operate in truth, that we keep it technical. … [Losing] gives you a chance to recenter and certainly evaluate where you’re at as a team. It’s important to adjust, to adapt, to evolve, and certainly I’ve seen just in the few days here this group is sticking together,” he said.

“There’s a certain loyalty that comes with this game, and I love how this group wants to do their job for the team. They want to do it better for the team. … The big focus for our team is to get consumed with improvement — with our process, our routine and execution. How can we improve in terms of how we execute?”

Napier continued: “It’s critical that you learn from mistakes. It’s critical that you have integrity, that you tell the truth, and you make the necessary changes. Then, hey, look, you’ve got to turn the page. This game teaches you a lot of lessons, and quickly you’ve got to get focused on the next task. Certainly that’s what we’re going to try to do.”

Shake it off

No one on the Gators needs to push last week’s loss out of his mind more than sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson, whose shockingly poor play in the game directly led to the loss. Richardson completed just 40% of his passes for 143 yards with two interceptions (one returned for a touchdown) last week. Through two games, he has yet to throw a touchdown on 59 pass attempts with all three of his scores coming on the ground in the opener. Suddenly, far-too-early Heisman Trophy hype transitioned into far-too-harsh criticism for a signal caller who has made less than a handful of starts in his young career.

Beyond his play on the field, most notable about Richardson’s display last Saturday was the level of accountability he took in a post-game press conference following the loss. It may not have been “The Promise,” but Richardson stepped to the podium with no one pressuring him to do so; he admitted to the gathered media that his miscues led to Florida’s failure in a key game that likely would have pushed the program into the top 10 of various national college football rankings.

“It just shows you what type of kid you’re dealing with here. This is a guy who’s got character,” said Napier of Richardson’s post-game accountability. “One of Anthony’s special traits is that he is a loyal guy. You’re talking about a guy that really has a heart to do his job for his teammates, and that’s one of the things that’s going to make him a special player. This is just one chapter in the book about Anthony Richardson. … I told him, ‘Look, get up Sunday morning, pick the pen up and write a great page in the chapter of this part of your life and this part of your career.’”

Napier remains confident in Richardson and his potential going forward: This guy’s a competitor. He’s motivated, and he’s going to take full advantage of the experience he’s had, both good and bad, so far. Again, it’s important to evaluate each game and each performance and each play independent of the outcome. Are you doing everything that you were supposed to do the right way? Sometimes, you get a great outcome and you didn’t do what you were supposed to do. … You can get too consumed with the result. What you’ve got to do is control the things that you can control, get consumed with preparing, and go execute and do your job for the team.”

Justus for all

Few players have received more praise from Napier through the offseason into the start of the 2022 campaign than redshirt freshman defensive end Justus Boone. Though he is second on the depth chart behind sophomore Princely Umanmielen, Boone has made an impact when he gets into games, particularly last week when he registered two solo tackles (one for loss) as part of a stellar performance from the defensive front.

 “The guy’s grown up as a human being a lot just in terms of work ethic, attitude, discipline,” Napier said. “… He’s one of these guys that’s earned the right to get between the lines and represent the University of Florida. … He’s improved as a human being, and better humans make better football players. He’s a great reflection of that part. He’s improved as a person, and that has, in turn, affected his ability to play football.”

Boone credits his improvement to frustration he encountered last season from not getting on the field. By the end of the season, he became consumed with improving, a mindset that continued through the staff change and into his second campaign with the program.

“Just keeping my head down, keep on working and doing the little things that matter that’s going to eventually pay off whenever it’s time for me to play,” said Boone of his focus. “I’ve just been sharpening up everything since then.”

Boone is among the numerous reasons the Gators have seen growth in the trenches on defense. It was clear that Florida was improved up front in the opener against Utah, but it became clear last week against Kentucky that this unit has dedicated itself to be dominant game-changers for the program this season.

“We took a step forward in this past game. Some of the young players, really — you saw Week 1 to Week 2 improvement, and you think about for them in their career it was Game 1 to Game 2 improvement. So, we’re starting to get better play from some of that second tier,” Napier said. “Gervon [Dexter] in particular really was significantly better in the game. When I say that, I’m talking about alignment, discipline, fundamentals. Across the board there, we were much improved.”

Cleaning out the notebook

Napier on redshirt freshman kicker Adam Mihalek, who is 2 of 2 on field goals (long: 50) and 3 of 3 on extra points this season: “Adam’s been impressive since the day we got here. … He’s earned it. That’s one of the reasons why he’s comfortable going out there and performing and that’s because he’s been performing every day since the first day of spring practice. He’s got a really good presence about him. He’s an even-keeled guy. … He wants to do his job for the team; it means something to him.”

Napier did not indicate anything specifically, but it sounded as if freshman K Trey Smack may be in line to take over kickoff duties once he fully recovers from his offseason injuries.

Boone on freshman linebacker Shemar James, who has already made two starts this season despite sitting at No. 2 on the depth chart: “Shemar is going to be a crazy good player. He’s already crazy good now just coming up from a high school standpoint and being able to just adapt to the college level, I feel like the sky is just the limit for him.”

Napier on keys to communication, notably in replacing redshirt senior Ventrell Miller: “We want to do it early, loud and often. We want to do it clearly, concisely and with confidence. That’s the big challenge for those linebackers – to be as good a communicator as Ventrell.”

Napier on how he would grade himself through two weeks: “The main focus here is improving at our job – every single person in the building. The grade would be, ‘Did you do it better than you did it last week?’ That’s a fluid thing that’s going to evolve the rest of the way. … Grades? We’ll leave that up to [the media].”

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