Florida football spring game: Anthony Richardson stars, offense shines as Blue routs Orange

By OnlyGators.com Staff
April 14, 2022
Florida football spring game: Anthony Richardson stars, offense shines as Blue routs Orange

The first taste of the Florida Gators under new head coach Billy Napier came on a rare Thursday night as the 2022 Orange & Blue Game was held in primetime inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. With the roster and coaching staff split along uniform color lines, the Gators showed that the offense remains far ahead of the defense in a 34-0 shutout win for the Blue squad.

Led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson, the Blue team scored on every first-half possession to open up a 21-0 halftime lead. Richardson remained in the game through the third quarter, completing 18 of 24 passes for 207 yards and two touchdowns with a rushing score on the evening. His passes were crisp, his surgically-repaired knee looked 100% healthy, and he managed the first-team offense exceptionally well against a first-team Orange defense that proved it still has miles to go.

“I can’t say enough [about him],” head coach Billy Napier said of Richardson. “His approach has been first class.”

The same could not be said for redshirt freshman QB Jack Miller III, who was incredibly inconsistent with the ball and made numerous errors in the red zone. Miller completed 13 of 23 passes for 121 yards with an end zone interception thrown into triple coverage. As if the starting job was not already decided entering the game, Richardson made it quite clear why he is QB1 entering the season as Miller got off his spot too easily and telegraphed passes too frequently.

Let’s dive into some other first-blush takeaways from the spring game.

Thumbs up

» Tight ends: For a position that has been ravaged by injuries and using replacement players, these guys showed out all night. Junior Keon Zipperer (Orange), redshirt junior Dante Zanders (Blue, moved from defensive line) and redshirt sophomore walk-on Noah Keeter (Blue, moved from linebacker) combined for 10 receptions, 142 yards and a touchdown (Keeter). Each had receptions of 20+ yards while averaging 15 yards per catch or better. That’s not to say this will be replicated in the regular season, but it did provide some hope at the position and some highlights for recruits that this position will be targeted frequently in the offense. Napier called Zanders the “story of the spring” for his commitment to the position change and believes he has a real future at tight end.

» Montrell Johnson Jr. (Blue) transferred from Louisiana looking for opportunity under Napier, and he’s certainly found it. Though Johnson played for both teams, he got the start for Blue and received 16 total touches, the second-most in the game. Johnson finished with 64 total yards and a rushing touchdown, showing good burst and shiftiness. Given he may be more trustworthy with the ball (see below), he certainly seems to have a leg up for the starting job.

» Diwun Black (Blue) did not show out as many hoped in his first season, but he looks to have completely turned things around. Napier called out his “gold standard of effort” during the spring, noting he “completely changed his reputation in the building”, and it showed on the field. Black had three tackles and two pass defenses. The senior linebacker was frequently around the ball and looked like the playmaker everyone expected he could be both out of high school and junior college.

» Jalen Kimber and Jordan Young (Blue) showed out for the second-team defense, combining for 12 tackles (seven for loss). While Young was impressive in the open field, Kimber showed talent in coverage with an interception and two pass defenses. The redshirt sophomore and redshirt freshman were just two out of a handful of second-teamers who impressed, including sophomore defensive linemen Tyreak Sapp (forced fumble, QB hurry, tackle for loss).

» Ja’Quavion Fraziars (Orange) got the most run out of any wide receivers. The sophomore caught five passes for 53 yards, though he was missed frequently by Miller and likely could have put up a more significant stat line.

» Adam Mihalek (Blue), a redshirt freshman walk-on kicker, did something others at his position could not last year: make long field goals. Mihalek stunningly connected on 52- and 47-yard field goals in the second half, clearly making a case for a scholarship if that play is indicative of what he’s accomplished in practice to this point, though he did boot a kickoff out of bounds as well. (2022 signee Trey Smack will not enroll until the summer.)

» Atmosphere: Florida announced an attendance of over 45,000. While that was likely juiced with The Swamp acting as the Pontiac Silverdome in this scenario, there was nevertheless a huge showing of fans, proving Napier’s decision to move the game to Thursday night before Easter an inspired one. Furthermore, there were reportedly more than 300 recruits in attendance to see that fan engagement and experience a taste of a primetime atmosphere. Napier even handed out some awards to players during halftime at midfield. “It was electric out there,” Napier said after the game. “Even better than I expected.”

Thumbs in the middle

» Demarkus Bowman (Orange) showed great quickness and agility but made costly mistakes with the ball in his hands. The redshirt sophomore running back fumbled the opening kickoff and fumbled a carry on the first possession of the second half, giving Blue the ball in the red zone for an immediate Richardson rushing touchdown. Bowman took 21 touches for a game-high 79 total yards, but those miscues are going to give the coaches second thoughts about giving him the starting job. If he can take care of those ball protection issues, he is clearly the most electric playmaker on the field.

Thumbs down

» First-team defense: Spring games are not defensive showcases, so no one was expecting the Orange first team to consistently stop Richardson or turn the ball over. Still, AR15 sliced through it like butter with the Blue offense getting whatever it wanted in the first half. Blue scored on all of its possessions before halftime and likely would have in the second half as well if it didn’t take its foot off the gas. (Orange did have a nice defensive stop on the first drive of the latter period.) There was no push from the defensive front seven, and Blue was never even forced into an occasional negative play. Defensive coordinator Patrick Toney has a lot of work to do with this group over the summer.

» Discipline: This is mostly referring to pre-snap penalties, of which there were plenty in the game — particularly the first half. Florida was one of the five most penalized teams in the nation last season, and that lack of care is simply not sustainable if this team wants to move forward. Napier has made this a key point of offseason program, so it was a bit surprising to see it be such an issue. Then again, the Gators have surely been concentrating on larger issues during their limited 15 practices, and hopefully this is a problem addressed more thoroughly during summer camp.

» Celebration chain(s): Sure, this may be silly to write about, but Florida had a touchdown chain on the sideline. It was a simple thick link necklace with a steel padlock on the bottom. Forget for a moment that the fad was made popular by one of UF’s rivals, it is massively played out, and the Gators’ chain did not even impress. Asked about a “turnover chain” after the game, Napier demured: “Nobody ran that by me. That won’t be happening.” Hopefully, he was talking about any semblance of a celebration chain and not just specifically a “turnover” version. Either way, it does not need to be part of the program.

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