This story first appeared in Chomp, our Gators football newsletter. Subscribe here.
Hey, Florida fans.
The first game of the season gave us so much optimism. Now, there’s some worry creeping in.
🌎 Gators fall back down to Earth with loss to ‘Cats
The Gators and quarterback Anthony Richardson were praised for their performance in their 29-26 upset of then-No. 7 Utah to kick off the season and the Billy Napier era, but the hype surrounding the program has quickly diminished with then-No. 12 Florida’s 26-16 loss to then-No. 20 Kentucky.
Richardson was off all game in front of another sold-out crowd in the Swamp and 22 scouts from 15 NFL teams. The Gainesville native completed 14 of 35 passes for 143 yards and had two interceptions, including a pick-six.
In a video, it appears he may have tweaked his ankle in the first drive. That may explain why he only ran for 4 yards between six attempts. Napier did say at a news conference following Saturday night’s game that was partly because of Kentucky’s defense.
“I think a little bit of it was the way they defended us. It was part of it,” he said. “I think we had opportunities there for him to run it, but sometimes the defense dictates some of those things. I do think last week he had more opportunities and part of that was the structure that the defense played.”
One of the bright sides was that running back Trevor Etienne had some good moments. Another was the defensive, which held on as long as it could but started wearing down in the second half against the Wildcats (2-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference).
“I feel like I let everybody down, especially the defense, because I looked everybody on the defense in the eye and I told them I got them and I was going to put up points for them,” Richardson said. “Obviously, I didn’t.”
It didn’t help that linebacker Ventrell Miller, one of the team’s top tacklers who defensive lineman Gervon Dexter Sr. described as “the quarterback of the defense,” was in the locker room. He reportedly suffered a lower leg injury. On the offense, right tackle Michael Tarquin injured his right ankle and limped to the sideline.
Florida (1-1, 0-1 SEC) has now lost two consecutive games in the series for the first time in 45 years.
Napier talked at a news conference Monday about how opportunity can come from adversity.
“You don’t get them back. That’s what losing does to you. It makes you very aware that you don’t get back — there’s no redos. You don’t go back and fix those things,” Napier said. “It causes you to have a different perspective, I think as a coach and as a player. I think everybody in the organization taking ownership in their role, maybe what could I have done better throughout the week, that could have impacted the outcome.
“It’s critical that you learn from mistakes. I think 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. I think part of this game is — 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.”
In the latest episode of Gators Breakdown, host David Waters reacts to Florida’s first loss of the season and what went wrong.
🤯 Week 2 shocks with upsets & nail-biters
Now, of course, the weekend would have been more enjoyable had the Gators won, but that still couldn’t take away from the entertainment that is college football. Week 2 shocked with upsets, overtime games and more.
Notre Dame under new coach Marcus Freeman was defeated 26-21 at home by Marshall. And the Fighting Irish weren’t the only ranked team to fall to unranked squads. Washington State beat Wisconsin 17-14 in Madison. Texas Tech downed Houston 33-30 in double overtime. The Sun Belt Conference had a day, with App State getting a 17-14 win over Jimbo Fisher’s Texas A&M team in College Station and then Georgia Southern, led by former Southern Cal coach Clay Helton, took down Nebraska 45-42 on the road. The next day, Nebraska promptly fired Scott Frost, the once Florida coaching candidate, who was 16-31 three games into his fifth season with the Cornhuskers.
Other overtime games included Tennessee beating Pitt 34-27 in single overtime and BYU topping Baylor 26-20 in double overtime.
And one of the most surprising games was Alabama at Texas. The Crimson Tide, who were favorited by three touchdowns, narrowly escaped upset with a 20-19 win over the Longhorns, who lost their quarterback, Quinn Ewers, in the first half.
📉 Florida falls down — not out — in poll rankings
Surprisingly, national college football poll voters didn’t punish Florida too much in the polls for its loss to Kentucky.
After shooting up from unranked to No. 12 in the AP Top 25 college football poll following their upset of ranked Utah, the Gators then fell six spots to No. 18 after being defeated by ranked Kentucky. For the Wildcats, however, their road victory propelled them into the Top 10.
The USA Today Sports AFCA football coaches poll didn’t give the Gators as much love after their win over Utah, placing them at No. 19 from unranked. Following Saturday’s loss, they only fell two spots to No. 21.
The big takeaways from this week’s rankings: Georgia took the top spot in the AP poll, jumping Alabama, which narrowly got out of Austin with a win. Alabama did, however, hold on to the No. 1 ranking in the coaches poll despite the close game.
🐂 Bulls up next
The Gators will have to shake off Saturday’s loss quickly. Next up: South Florida comes to Gainesville.
Napier said at Monday’s news conference that he presented his team with a challenge heading into this week.
“When you’re presented with challenges and adversity in life, I think that there’s opportunity, and it’s important that we operate in truth, that we keep it technical. You know, when you try to help the players maintain perspective. I think that it’s very important that you take full advantage of the things that come with an experience like this. It gives you a chance to recenter and certainly evaluate where you’re at as a team,” Napier said. “So 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. 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. So I think the big focus for our team is to get consumed with improvement, right? With our process, our routine and execution. How can we improve in terms of how we execute?
“So I challenged the staff to let’s do our best work for the players, the level of detail that we can offer the players throughout the week — meetings, walk-throughs and practice — and try to position in better place as we approach Saturday.”
While the Gators are coming off a loss, the Bulls (1-1) are coming off a 42-20 home win over Howard. It’s the third-ever meeting between the in-state programs and Florida’s second time in school history hosting South Florida. The Gators are 2-0 in the all-time series, including 1-0 in The Swamp. When the Gators and the Bulls and their coach Jeff Scott met last season in Tampa, Florida prevailed 42-20.
While Napier wasn’t at Florida last year when the two teams met, he is familiar with Scott from their time together at Clemson. Napier said Scott was a coordinator and assistant coach for the Tigers when he first got to Clemson as a graduate assistant.
“As he’s building a program, obviously inherited a little bit of a tough dynamic there being year one and COVID. But Jeff’s a bright young coach, and his team is playing extremely hard. You can see the effort,” Napier said. “You can see the toughness, the Week 1 to 2 improvement, certainly some of the changes they made on the staff from a defensive standpoint. 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.”
As far as which Gators will be available when Florida hosts USF, Napier said that update will be provided Wednesday. He also disclosed that quarterback Jack Miller, the Ohio State transfer who recently underwent thumb surgery, is “making progress.”
“He’s not quite ready for action, but he’s in the process, getting closer,” he said. “He’s kind of moved in the next stage there of return to play.”
Saturday’s kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m., and the game will be on SEC Network.
The Gators should be able to manage this next game before another SEC matchup — this one on the road against Tennessee.
🕞 Florida-Tennessee gets ‘SEC on CBS’ slot
Cue the “SEC on CBS” theme song. (Side rant: CBS Sports used the tune for a 2023 Big 10 football preview video, and it just doesn’t seem right.)
As for Florida’s next SEC matchup, the Gators’ Sept. 24 away game against the Volunteers will kick off at 3:30 p.m. and air on CBS.
Florida last visited Knoxville in 2020 and defeated the Volunteers 31-19 in Neyland Stadium. Florida owns the all-time record at Tennessee 14-12 and the overall series 31-20. The Gators have won 16 of the last 17 meetings between the two SEC East rivals, including last year’s 38-14 victory in the Swamp.
🏆 Week 1 honors recapped
Since we’re trying to get Chomp out as soon as possible after each game, there are a few things we might miss during the week but still want to mention in the newsletter.
Last week, those things included Richardson and linebacker Brenton Cox Jr. earning SEC honors following Florida’s 29-26 upset of Utah. Richardson was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career. Cox also claimed his first conference player of the week honors, being named SEC Co-Defensive Lineman of the Week.
Richardson was also named the Davey O’Brien Award National Quarterback of the Week for Week 1 of the college football season. The day before that, Richardson was named to the Davey O’Brien Great 8 List, which recognizes exceptional play by quarterbacks across the country. With his inclusion on the season-opening list, he is officially added to the Davey O’Brien Midseason Watch List.
In addition, Napier was named Dodd Trophy Coach of the Week following Florida’s Week 1 victory. The award honors a football coach who led his team to a significant victory, while also embodying the award’s three pillars of scholarship, leadership and integrity.
🏀 Men’s hoops’ SEC schedule announced
The Gators men’s basketball team’s SEC schedule for the 2022-23 season was unveiled last week.
The Gators will open conference play under first-year head coach Todd Golden with a road game at Auburn on Dec. 28.
Florida tips off its home SEC schedule with a home game against Texas A&M on Jan. 4, followed by another matchup at Exactech Arena — this one against Georgia. Florida also has home dates against Missouri, South Carolina, Tennessee, Vanderbilt, Ole Miss, Kentucky and the regular season finale against LSU.
View the Gators’ entire SEC slate for the upcoming season here.
✉️ Send us your Gators thoughts & questions
David and I want to hear from you. Do you have any thoughts or questions about the Gators football program? Agree or disagree with something we’ve said? Let us know here, and we’ll share our responses to your questions.