The Billy Napier era has begun. Sort of.
The new Florida Gators head coach led his team onto the field at the Swamp for the Orange and Blue game for the first time. Although there are months to go until the season opener on Sept. 3 vs. Utah, we did learn a few things about the Napier-era Gators. The Blue team, comprised mostly of starters on offense, topped the Orange team featuring a lot of defensive starters, 34-0. Here’s what we learned:
It’s clear that Napier’s plan is well thought out. He moved the spring game from the weekend to Thursday night so the students would be able to come to the game, instead of being away for Easter weekend. He brought in over 300 recruits to see what the Gators are doing. And he created a competitive atmosphere, unlike some spring games that are largely controlled practices. It’s an aggressive approach from a coach with a reputation for being a relentless worker. Will it pay off? That remains to be seen, but Gator fans should be optimistic about the future of the football program.
Quarterback Anthony Richardson
After splitting time last season with Emery Jones, Anthony Richardson is now the unquestioned starting quarterback for the Gators and he looked the part on Thursday night. In the first half, Richardson was accurate and made quick decisions in leading three touchdown drives. By halftime, he had completed 13 of 15 passes for 167 yards and two touchdowns. Granted, the defenses weren’t doing much in the way of blitzing or creative pressures and some of the tackling was more of a bump to keep everyone healthy, but Richardson’s efficiency in the short passing game was notable. Richardson finished the game 18 of 24 for 207 yards with two touchdown passes. He also ran six times for 22 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown run.
You might expect the defense to trail the offense at this point in the spring, especially with a new system being put in place. There were some positives from the Orange defense, including some stops in short-yardage near the goal line. But they didn’t make enough of those stops to keep the Blue team out of the endzone in the first half. The second-team defense on the Blue side was more impressive.
Replacing Kariir Elam
Elam is the only former Gator projected to go in the first round of the NFL draft. That means there is a hole to fill at cornerback. The only interception of the game was turned in by Donovan McMillian, who picked off a Jack Miller throw in the endzone in the first quarter. The projected starters at cornerback are Avery Helm and Jason Marshall. Marshall had four total tackles in the game.
Players of local interest
Some players on the Gators’ roster are from our area. Here’s what they did Thursday night:
Chris Howard, kicker – The former Ponte Vedra Shark missed a 32-yard field goal in the first quarter.
Austin Barber, offensive line – The Redshirt freshman from Trinity Christian, played a lot of snaps at left tackle with the Orange team. While there were not a lot of pass rush opportunities, by design, Barber did a good job in his one-on-one matchups.
Kingsley Eguakun, center – The former Sandalwood star will be counted on to be a leader on the offensive line this year. After starting all 13 games at center during his redshirt sophomore year, Eguakun is set to anchor the line in 2022.