Florida vs. Texas A&M score, takeaways: Gators dominate second half as Anthony Richardson stars

By OnlyGators.com Staff
November 6, 2022
Florida vs. Texas A&M score, takeaways: Gators dominate second half as Anthony Richardson stars

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

While there were frustrations and concerns at times Saturday, the Florida Gators ultimately pulled away with a dominant second-half effort for a thorough 41-24 victory over the Texas A&M Aggies at Kyle Field in College Station, Texas. The victory was Florida’s first on the road in SEC play in nearly two years (Dec. 5, 2020), and it may have offered a turning point for first-year head coach Billy Napier.

The Gators improved to 5-4 (2-4 SEC) and now sit one win away from bowl eligibility, which is notably important this season given Napier needs all the practice time he can get before his second campaign. Florida put forth as thorough an effort as it has given this season in the second half, shutting down Texas A&M’s offense while creating turnovers and additional scoring opportunities.

The Gators outscored the Aggies 21-0, forced two turnovers (plus two more on downs) and outgained the hosts 229-106 over the final 30 minutes (179-29 in the third quarter alone). All while sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson put together a (major) error-free performance with four total touchdowns.

“The execution was there. Really proud of the defense to shut that group out in the second half, to play complementary football,” said Napier, who praised his staff for their adjustments coming out of halftime. “… We’re starting to play football the way it’s intended to be played.”

Florida did not play a perfect game by any means, and Texas A&M did enter with a diminished roster due to a flu that ran through the team, but UF has lost similar games before. The Gators’ far less-talented roster (from a recruiting ratings standpoint) nevertheless took it to an Aggies team that had home-field advantage and a more experienced coach on their side.

“We spend countless hours on scheme, countless hours training, lifting weights, running, working on fundamentals, working on situational football, but there’s a human element to this game. And that’s a battle that we’ve been living with this group of players,” said Napier. “I can’t complement the leadership on our staff and the leadership of our players enough relative to the character, the accountability, the brotherhood, playing the game with a special team dynamic, a certain morale. Just out of respect for the game and the way it should be played. And I think we saw some of that today.”

Let’s take a look at what went down Saturday afternoon as Florida silenced the 12th Man.

Gators operate on a razor’s edge

In a season filled with close games, Florida pulling away for a 17-point road win at Texas A&M is a welcome development. In reality, that score does not tell the story of a game the Gators thoroughly dominated. Sure, the yardage totals were similar (492-413), but even when Florida trailed early, it never felt like a loss was coming. In fact, the only reason the game was close was the Gators consistently remaining their own worst enemy.

After allowing Texas A&M to convert its first three third-down tries on an opening touchdown drive, Florida’s defense locked down, giving up just 1 of 10 such conversions the rest of the way. For a team ranked 130th nationally in third down defense entering the game (.523), the Gators stifled an Aggies team not so efficient itself on third downs offensively (106th, .343).

Florida secured two late turnovers with sack-fumbles but converted neither into points. It also had two red zone trips end without points scored thanks to a missed field goal and failed fourth-down conversion (the right call, just not executed well). Scoring on either of those turnovers or that fourth-down try would have put the game away far earlier. Instead, it was up to sophomore running back Montrell Johnson Jr. to secure a three-score lead when he found the end zone from 5 yards out with 1:21 remaining.

And that’s exactly the point. Florida makes far too many mistakes on a game-by-game basis. Coupled with a talent deficiency, offensive play calling issues and suspect game management (more on that below), there is basically zero room for error each week. And yes, there were plenty of errors Saturday.

The Gators turned a touchdown drive into a field goal on their first offensive series thanks to a pair of false starts from redshirt sophomore right tackle Michael Tarquin, a mind-numbing run on second-and-15 from the Aggies 35-yard line and a pair of poor RPO decisions from sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson, who earlier completed passes of 17 and 23 yards on the drive.

On the next drive, as Texas A&M RB Devon Achane reversed field for a 65-yard run, he was aided by a facemask from sophomore cornerback Jason Marshall Jr. A pass interference by redshirt sophomore CB Jaydon Hill gave TAMU further life as it punched in a touchdown. That’s four penalties on the first two drives notwithstanding the playcalling questions.

Tied at 17 in the second quarter, Richardson made an incredible improvisation play on fourth-and-6 with a forward option pitch to Johnson. However, once Florida got inside the Texas A&M 10, penalties again killed the drive. Redshirt freshman left guard Austin Barber committed two more false starts, turning a potential touchdown drive into a field goal. UF led 20-17 instead of, possibly, 28-17.

After a dominant third quarter, Florida again floundered in the fourth. Back in scoring position after a 24-yard run by Johnson, not only did Richardson throw behind junior wide receiver Ricky Pearsall for a would-be touchdown on third-and-Goal from the 9, redshirt freshman kicker Adam Mihalek missed a chip-shot 28-yard field goal, taking the drive potential from seven points to three to zero in a flash.

Sophomore defensive lineman Princely Umanmielen responded with a great sack-fumble on the next drive as the Aggies threatened, but the Gators were unable to move the ball or run the clock. Sophomore linebacker Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr. forced a fumble the same way on Texas A&M’s next drive (recovered by senior LB Amari Burney), but Florida failed on the aforementioned fourth-and-Goal try from the 1, again winding up without any points from the turnover.

A miscue here and there is bound to happen, but these are the examples of the Gators taking food out of their own mouths. Many of these are unforced errors that are the difference between not only winning and losing an individual game but being 5-4 or 8-1. This is the razor’s edge on which Florida operates, and while it may have no other choice this season, it’s not a sustainable way to live.

Richardson is getting it done

Suffice to say the preseason NFL Draft projections for Richardson were far too bullish far too early, but there’s no question that AR is developing as the season has progressed. Though his passing line was not gaudy with 17 completions on 28 attempts, Richardson threw for 201 yards and two touchdowns while rushing seven times for 78 yards and two more scores. Even more importantly, he went turnover-free for the third straight game — and there were not even instances in which he appeared to put the Gators in significant danger.

“Anthony’s going to play this game for a long time,” Napier said. “He’ll look back and this will be one of those days where he will say was kind of a pivotal day. Just playing with confidence. He started fast. Really thorough in his prep during the week. He’s a 20-year-old first-year starter in a new system.

“I really believe Anthony’s problems aren’t physical. It’s about development. It’s about getting comfortable with a role, being a leader, being vocal, improving as a communicator, playing as a competitor and playing for your teammates, taking yours and beating theirs. Today was a big step in the right direction for him.”

Whether Richardson ultimately declares for the draft after this season remains to be seen. He has fallen out of most first-round projections, but there’s still value to being selected in the second round. What most keen observers believe is a second year as a full-time starter at Florida could do wonders for his stock and put him back in the top 10 of the 2024 NFL Draft. Certainly with the way Richardson is improving, it’s a development that would make Napier and his teammates happy.

Richardson has not played consistently enough across a high number of contests. Injuries have certainly played a role to some degree, but he was also clearly in his head earlier in the season. NFL evaluators don’t mind projecting based on athleticism and ability, but they need to see more than that to risk a high first-round pick on a player, particularly a quarterback when play at that position remains at a premium with it more important than ever in the league.

The only problem?

Play calling, game management remain suspect

One of the reasons the Gators had success early was Richardson’s running ability — as showcased by a 60-yard keeper on an RPO for a first-quarter touchdown. And yet, Napier completely went away from using AR as a runner over the final three quarters. It was a maddening development as any observer can tell Florida’s offense clearly works better when Richardson is given the ability to make plays with his legs. Never was this more apparent in the fourth quarter where the Gators kept stalling offensively after getting fumbles and turnovers on downs. Most notable was the fourth-and-Goal situation from the TAMU 1 when AR likely could have bullied his way into the end zone on a sneak if given the chance.

Play calling is just one aspect of the game in which Napier seems to struggle, and it’s why we called for Florida to hire a full-time, play calling offensive coordinator after last week’s loss to Georgia. There are far too many occasions on a weekly basis where Florida is in odd offensive situations like running on second-and-15 just outside the red zone when trailing or not running the ball late in games when it should be trying to run the clock.

The Gators outgained the Aggies 291-134 on the ground with Johnson (22 carries, 100 yards, TD) and freshman RB Trevor Etienne (17 carries, 80 yards) dominating. And yet, it was not until the final drive where Florida made an effort to run; wouldn’t you know it, Johnson took every carry and scored to go up 17 on that drive. The Gators could have at least been chewing clock if they were not going to convert those aforementioned turnovers into points; instead, they did neither, which created more opportunities for the Aggies than they otherwise should have received.

By far the most frustrating, though, is Napier’s decision making at the end of first halves. Time and again this season, he’s operated in direct contrast to his “scared money don’t make money” mantra by giving up on legitimate scoring opportunities during game situations in which Florida needed to be more aggressive.

Late in the first half, Texas A&M completed a six-play, 74-yard drive in 1:04 to lead 24-20. At that point, the teams were trading scores with the defenses almost completely unable to make stops. The Aggies’ touchdown came after they traded punts with the Gators for the first time all game.

Florida got the ball back with 1:00 left and three timeouts, plenty of time to at least get in field goal range if not score a touchdown as Texas A&M did just prior. UF did get a delay of game penalty coming out of a dead-ball situation (unacceptable, yes), but after Richardson was unable to get out of bounds on a first down, Napier just … let the clock run.

If “scared money don’t make money,” well, what does one call this? Where is the aggressiveness? (Similarly, the Gators appear to be the only team in the nation that does not take shots down the field coming out of turnovers. But we digress …)

It would be one thing if the Aggies were a stout defense and Richardson was being careless with the ball. Instead, Texas A&M had just scored and was set to get the ball back after halftime. There was a chance the Aggies could have turned a 20-17 Florida lead into a 31-20 Texas A&M advantage had they scored coming out of the break.

“We’ve been in some mayday 2-minute where you’re a little bit conservative until you get to midfield. I don’t know that we’ve had good starts to those possessions where, if you pop one, you can get aggressive and try to go steal some points. Whereas we’ve sputtered in those,” Napier said. “It’s been an area … we have absolutely crushed that in the past [at Louisiana]. It’s something where, each week, we haven’t executed in that area very well.”

While Napier’s explanation is fair, he makes it sound as if Florida ran a couple plays, stalled and then gave up on the drive. That’s not the case. Nearly every time, it has been the Gators running one play and then letting the clock tick down. Again, in this situation, they had all three timeouts. Luckily for Florida, the defense locked down in the second half. If it did not, this decision by Napier would have been even worse.

Reevaluating Florida’s record

With the way the college football landscape has shaken out after Week 10, it’s fair to say Florida’s season can be put in a different perspective. Its frustrating home loss to a Kentucky team that seems to have its number notwithstanding, UF’s other three defeats are to No. 3 Georgia (set to be No. 1 next Tuesday), No. 1 Tennessee (likely still in the top five next Tuesday) and No. 10 LSU (likely just outside the top five after beating No. 6 Alabama on Saturday). The Gators lost those games by an average of 12.3 points but had legitimate chances to win the latter two contests if a couple balls bounced differently.

Odds and ends

The Gators notched their first SEC road win in nearly two years (Dec. 5, 2020 at Tennessee) after five straight such losses … freshman WR Caleb Douglas grabbed his second career TD on a 12-yard pass from Richardson in the third quarter … he has scored in both games in which he’s recorded a reception … sophomore WR Ja’Quavion Fraziars caught his first passes and first TD of the season with four receptions for 50 yards … Florida outgained Texas A&M 179-29 in the third quarter alone …

Florida evened the series 3-3 all-time against Texas A&M, 2-2 since the teams became SEC foes … the Gators scored 24+ points for the ninth time in their last 15 games … Florida is 5-0 this season when rushing for 150+ yards and 4-0 when leading after the third quarter … UF is 31-9 against unranked opponents since 2018 … Florida has scored in 432 consecutive games, an NCAA record

What it means

Florida picked up a much-needed win but hardly one that was a sure thing. Though Texas A&M was down a couple starters, UF lost a similar game to LSU a couple years ago. The facts are that the Aggies have an established program in Year 5 under head coach Jimbo Fisher, and their roster is far more talented than that of the Gators. Still, Florida played better, harder and more consistently, which is a credit to Napier’s program management in Year 1. The Gators are also one win away from being bowl eligible, an important goal for Napier to achieve not only for player buy in but the purposes of being granted additional practices that will help the team improve ahead of spring practice.

“At the University of Florida, sure, it’s great to go to a bowl,” Napier said dismissively. “We’ve got bigger aspirations than that. The main thing that I’m probably most excited about is the progress we’ve made with those people. I could care less about anything but continuing that progress, that momentum, that brotherhood, those relationships. If you get that right, the football comes with it.”

What’s next?

Florida returns to The Swamp for the last time this season as it hosts South Carolina on Saturday, Nov. 12 with a 4 p.m. ET kickoff on SEC Network. The Gators have won three of the last four over the Gamecocks but got decimated 40-17 last season in South Carolina head coach Shane Beamer’s first game leading the program. The ‘Cocks are 6-3 this season, but other than a win at then-ranked Kentucky, they have struggled against higher-quality opponents.

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