Florida football score, takeaways: Gators get right in thorough beatdown of Eastern Washington

By OnlyGators.com Staff
October 2, 2022
Florida football score, takeaways: Gators get right in thorough beatdown of Eastern Washington

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

Faced with a bit of a reprieve after playing three ranked opponents through the first four weeks of the season, the Florida Gators focused on execution and exorcised some demons in a complete 52-17 win over the Eastern Washington Eagles. The Gators improved to 3-2 on the season with a 2-1 record at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Florida.

After giving up the opening field goal, Florida scored 52 straight points before allowing two fourth-quarter touchdowns. Eastern Washington was able to put together a couple competent drives early in the game, but the Gators’ quick-strike offense put the Eagles behind 14-3 at the end of the first quarter, 35-3 at halftime and 45-3 entering the final frame.

In the end, Florida accomplished its goals, and head coach Billy Napier was pleased with his team’s overall performance, too, noting at halftime that he hopes the program will “perform the same independent of the opponent” over the remainder of the season.

“We had our best week of practice, offensively in particular. Sometimes, the opponent doesn’t matter. It’s about your urgency, your focus and your intensity. Our detail was better … and that showed up on game day,” Napier said.

What went down in the Gators’ first regular-season game played on Sunday in program history? Let’s dive into some takeaways from Florida vs. Eastern Washington.

1. Anthony Richardson was great … until he wasn’t: The sophomore quarterback showed great touch early and often throughout the first half, including on a 75-yard touchdown strike to redshirt junior wide receiver Justin Shorter on the Gators’ first play from scrimmage and a sharp 21-yard scoring catch by sophomore WR Xzavier Henderson late in the second quarter. He dropped balls in pockets, hit streaking receivers and consistently made the right decisions in the passing game. Richardson also kept his jersey clean (best he could) by only running once when he took a broken play 45 yards by weaving through Eagles defenders on the second series of the game.

“He did a great job today,” Napier said. “It showed Anthony is a product of his work. You’re seeing a guy whose settling in a little bit. He’s starting to get more familiar with what his routine should look like. … As you gain experience, you start to settle down a little bit. That’s the big difference: He’s less anxious. Those first couple of weeks, he may have looked calm, cool and collected, but that heart was beating in there. He’s getting more comfortable with his role, and certainly, the direction of our team we’re going to give him an opportunity to do what he can do.”

And then came the second half. Napier allowed Richardson to remain under center despite Florida’s 35-3 lead, a fine decision likely made so Richardson could gain more experience finding his rhythm when playing cold out of halftime. The problem? Richardson made one of his worst decisions of the entire season in the lone second-half series, unconscionably throwing into quadruple coverage for an interception that was obvious the second the ball left his hands. Not only was AR needlessly aggressive given Florida’s large lead, he missed a wide-open receiver underneath for a big gain.

Napier said last week he has seen a dozen or so plays in each game where “Florida beats Florida.” Well, this was a paradigm — an unnecessary and ill-advised decision by a team leader that cannot be explained away by lack of experience or enthusiasm. Richardson still had a great game completing 6 of 9 passes for 185 yards with two scores with the pick — his arrow continued to point up for a second straight contest — but cutting out some of these bone-headed mistakes from his game is of paramount importance.

“It’s healthy. It’s hard to say you’re actually happy if a guy throws an interception, but it will be good for him to realize, ‘Look, I played a whole half. I did exactly what I was supposed to do. And then, first play of the second half, I forced the ball.’ … He’ll be sick to his stomach when he sees it on tape, for sure.”

2. Richardson’s backup looked good, too: Seeing the first action of his college career, redshirt freshman QB Jalen Kitna entered briefly in the second quarter and then permanently on the second series of the third quarter. He hooked up with freshman WR Caleb Douglas with an absolute dime down the sideline for a 62-yard touchdown reception and easily found open receivers during his time on the field. it was the first touchdown of both their careers and Douglas’ first-ever catch. Kitna ultimately completed 10 of 13 passes for 208 yards and the score.

“Caleb’s nickname is ‘payday,'” Napier said. “Caleb’s one of these young players we’re really excited about. … Caleb’s best football is in front of him. He gets better every day out there. You see the tools. He’s 6-foot-3 and change, a 200-pound guy that can really run. Good route and great throw [on the touchdown]. Good young player that we’re hopeful will continue to develop.”

Redshirt freshman Jack Miller III (thumb) was listed as questionable on this week’s depth chart, which makes it possible he is cleared to take his role behind Richardson next week vs. Missouri, but Kitna impressed enough in limited action where perhaps the Gators can give Miller more time. Granted, he was throwing against an FCS defense, but Kitna displayed poise and calmness in the pocket along with solid decision making during his time under center.

“First time between the lines, [he] did a lot of good things,” Napier said of Kitna. He added: “The last two weeks, he’s really grown up a lot. … All the guy does is throw completions in practice, and that’s what he did today. Two Thursdays ago, he was 100% completion in a practice; I don’t know that’s ever been done. Guy’s a really smart player. He runs our system and, for the most part, the ball went where it was supposed to go today.”

3. Disaster averted … thrice: Richardson, sophomore running back Montrell Johnson Jr. and senior linebacker Amari Burney all went down with lower-body injuries during the game, yet all three returned to action. One of the tenants of focus against an FCS opponent is getting out of the game healthy. Though there were a trio of moments that were certainly causes for concern, overall it appears as if Florida got out of the game unscathed.

4. Questions remain on defense: There should never be an expectation for a defense to completely stop an opponent from making first downs, kicking field goals or scoring touchdowns in a game. Still, the Gators did not play as well as one might think. They allowed the Eagles into the red zone twice in the opening quarter, and the reserves let up two touchdowns late before the final whistle. Eastern Washington starting QB Gunner Talkington completed 24 of 37 passes for 253 yards mostly against the starters, and the Eagles amassed 423 total yards in the game (thanks to a bunch of missed tackles). Florida did not break defensively, but it sure as hell bent more than Napier and co-defensive coordinator Patrick Toney would have wanted.

“We got work to do. Today, we did what we needed to do to get them off the field,” Napier said. “… We could have done some things better — played with better leverage, played with tighter coverage, better gap integrity at times. We’re very much a work in progress [on defense]. A lot of guys got really good experience today that should be beneficial for the future.”

5. Special teams remains an issue: As the Gators continue to search for improved execution in all three phases, special teams seems to find new ways to make mistakes on a weekly basis. This week, Florida had a field goal blocked and saw two miscues occur in the return game. Earlier, a punt was muffed only to be quickly recovered for a short gain. Later, a kickoff was muffed in the end zone — normally not a problem given the ball can be downed for a touchback, except there was an attempted return only stopped because a teammate literally forced the breaks to get applied right at the goal line. Both mistakes in the return game were mental errors, particularly the latter. Special teams used to be a strength for the Gators, but it remains a weakness of late — as it has been for the last couple years.

6. Play makers: In addition to the touchdowns already mentioned … junior WR Ricky Pearsall took a sweep 76 yards for an exhilarating score … redshirt sophomore RB Nay’Quan Wright found paydirt while taking seven carries for 28 yards … redshirt junior RB Lorenzo Lingard saw his first action of the season, picking up 44 yards on five carries with a score. Redshirt sophomore WR Trent Whittemore also had a great fingertip catch for 23 yards on his lone reception as 14 players caught a pass on the afternoon.

“It was really well-executed,” Napier said of Pearsall’s run. “… It’s one we’ve had in the chamber a little bit. Coach [Rob] Sale brought that idea to the table having been in the National Football League [where it has been run frequently].”

7. Odds and ends: Florida beat Eastern Washington in the team’s first meeting … UF paid EWU $750,000 to make the trip … the Gators improved to 68-17-4 all-time against FCS programs with seven straight wins and victories in 22 of the last 23 such meetings … UF improved to 3-0 against Big Sky teams, outscoring those opponents 184-27 … this was the first time Florida has ever played a regular-season game on a Sunday … the Gators have now won 15 straight regular-season nonconference games … Florida has scored 24+ points in three of its last four games after doing so in just two of the six prior … UF is 3-0 this season when rushing for 150+ yards … the Gators are 29-8 against unranked opponents since 2018 … Florida is 172-33 in The Swamp since 1990, the second-best home winning percentage (.839) in the nation … the Gators have scored in 428 consecutive games, an NCAA record … this was Florida’s 750th win as a football program

8. What it means: Not much. The Gators were supposed to win this game handily, and they did exactly that. Florida covered the 31.5-point spread, which is surely meaningful to some. Again, the goal for UF was to execute and get out of the game healthy. That’s exactly what it did.

9. What’s next? Florida will continue its second three-game homestand of the season by hosting Missouri for homecoming. It will be a six-day turnaround for the Gators given this contest was pushed to Sunday, though Napier has experience with short weeks from his time at Louisiana. Mizzou led then-No. 1 Georgia for the majority of their game Saturday, though the Bulldogs ultimately prevailed by scoring two touchdowns in the fourth quarter. The Gators actually have a losing record (5-6) in the all-tie series with defeats in three of the last five meetings.

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