Florida star QB Anthony Richardson aims to keep level head as hype train shifts into full gear

By OnlyGators.com Staff
September 9, 2022
Florida star QB Anthony Richardson aims to keep level head as hype train shifts into full gear
Football

Image Credit: Jordan McKendrick, UAA

At least when Florida Gators sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson was being hyped up in the preseason, there were still a share of naysayers. Richardson may have been beloved by NFL Draft evaluators before ever taking a snap in his second campaign, but those building All-SEC teams and top quarterback lists with a focus on the college game took a believe-it-when-I-see-it stance.

However, after Richardson’s outstanding performance against then-No. 7 Utah last week, suddenly no one is holding back. First came the quarterback-of-the-week awards. Then the talking heads on Sunday into Monday sung his praises. And now, despite stellar performances from other top players in Week 1, some are pushing Richardson to the front of the Heisman Trophy conversation.

Richardson completed 17 of 24 passes for 168 yards last Saturday, numbers that on their own do not tell the entire story. His exemplary passing performance included Richardson completing a 2-point conversion that will remain on season-long highlight reels and only making one potentially disastrous call despite having a couple miscues in which other reads would have potentially meant greater gains. Where Richardson’s play was indisputable was on the ground as he took 11 carries — most of them broken down passes — for 106 yards rushing and three touchdowns on the ground, one of which was a 45-yard scamper down the left sideline that may wind up on that same aforementioned tape.

 The decision-making in the game was pretty good,” head coach Billy Napier said in evaluating his signal caller this week. “[He] made one bad decision in the game, and that was third-and-10 where he forced the ball into coverage. He should have thrown an interception, truth be known. Outside of that, the management of the game, decision-making of the game was good. …

“You know, he’s his own worst critic now. He’s going to watch the film three times and tell you everything he could have done better, but he rose to the occasion. … That’s what I saw: a guy who is prepared behind the scenes, is a product of his work, and it showed up.”

The most common comparisons, when it comes to Richardson, are Tim Tebow — hell, the guy wears the same jersey and same number — and Cam Newton, also a former Gators quarterback. But while being in the same class as either is clearly a compliment, a more accurate comparison from a skill set perspective might be former Texas QB Vince Young.

Richardson has an electricity about his game that is tough to describe. Moments like that 2-point conversion just seem to happen for him when most of his peers do not have the athleticism and ingenuity to execute such unlikely plays.

It affects the run game a lot because it takes a lot of pressure off me,” said sophomore running back Montrell Johnson Jr. of Richardson’s mobility. “When we fake the ball going this way, Anthony going the other way, the defense doesn’t know who has the ball. So, it affects the run game a lot. … If any team has a guy like Anthony on their team, they’re in a position to win. It doesn’t matter what’s the outcome, you know what I mean?”

If the Utes didn’t know beforehand, they did after their 60 minutes were up inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. Speaking of electric, the Florida crowd was outstanding in a sold-out home opener, and it has chosen to repeat its performance with No. 20 Kentucky coming to town this Saturday.

It is not just them who will be on Richardson’s side, though. A more experienced, improved and far better coached offensive line opened holes, created rushing lanes and did its best to keep Richardson’s jersey clean last week. Napier said that development — and notably the play of junior right guard O’Cyrus Torrence — was not lost on the coaching staff when they watched game film.

That group showed — that’s kind of who we want to be. That’s the brand of football we played in the past. We invest in that area. We have two offensive line coaches. We put a premium on line of scrimmage play. That’s a developmental position,” he said. “But certainly, O’Cyrus, he rose to the occasion. We always felt that O’Cyrus was one of the better players out there, and he showed it. He was one of our players of the game.”

Johnson and freshman RB Trevor Etienne were so effective rushing the ball (17 carries, 139 yards, touchdown between them) that respect had to be given to both ends of the offense. That allowed Richardson to spread the ball around for positive yardage to seven different pass catchers including junior wide receiver Ricky Pearsall, a key transfer from Arizona State.

All Pearsall accomplished in his Florida debut was stand as the team’s leading receiver at game’s end, catching four balls for 67 yards with a tremendous 23-yard reception that setup a key score in the game. Given the Gators had to replace a ton of starting snaps at the position, his immediate breakout was a massively positive development.

“Ricky, first of all, he’s a very experienced player, and he’s been a very productive player if you look at his history at Arizona State. What stands out to me about Ricky is he’s a very skilled player. He’s skilled at the line of scrimmage, at the top of the route. He’s got really good ball skills. He’s got unique quickness and acceleration. He’s got a little creativity,” Napier said.

“The guy’s been running routes for a long time. We needed a player like that – that had some run after catch, that had some quickness. He’s a unique player in the slot there, presents a mismatch.”

The hope is that Kentucky is worried about Richardson and the Florida offense entering Saturday’s SEC opener, but the Gators should probably feel similarly as they take Florida Field for the second time this season. After dealing with Utah dual-threat signal caller Cameron Rising last week, Florida will face a similar problem in UK’s Will Levis.

While the consistency of style will certainly help the Gators prepare, Levis is no step down from Rising. Also a dual-threat signal caller with NFL aspirations, Levis is projected by some as high as a top-10 pick in the forthcoming 2023 NFL Draft.

While he struggled in his last outing against the Gators (7 of 17, 87 yards, touchdown, interception, 21 yards rushing), the Wildcats still won that game 20-13 last season, their second such victory in four years after dropping 31 consecutive contests in this series. Levis closed the 2021 season strong with 24 touchdowns (combined passing, rushing) over his final seven games entering bowl season. He opened up 2022 with 303 yards, three scores and one pick at home in a 37-13 win over Miami (Ohio).

“We did a good job to some degree of … keeping [Rising] the pocket, pushing it into him and affecting him. A lot of guys were selfless in their approach and didn’t try to be individuals and get the sack,” Napier said. “… That’s one of the things we will need to do well this week is stay in our spokes, push the pocket, try to affect the quarterback. We got to win more one-on-ones. That’s one of the things that stood out to me. We created one-on-ones; we need players to win one-on-ones and sack the quarterback. We got a very similar matchup this week in terms of the type of athlete we have [to face] at quarterback.”

With Florida and Utah set to battle Saturday night in The Swamp, all eyes will be on both quarterbacks in a star-studded matchup. But while Levis has been dealing with the full force of his hype train since the start of the offseason, Richardson is hoping to open a track and allow his surging locomotive to roll past as the Gators seek a 2-0 start in what would be a tremendous homestand to start Napier’s tenure with the program.

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