Florida vs. Utah score, highlights: Anthony Richardson stars as Gators upset No. 7 Utes in Billy Napier debut

One of college football’s most storied Week 1 games lived up to its billing Saturday night as Florida outlasted No. 7 Utah 29-26 in The Swamp to begin Gators coach Billy Napier’s tenure with an emphatic win over the reigning Pac-champs. 12. Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson put the Gators ahead on a 2-yard touchdown run with 1:25 left before defensive end Amari Burney intercepted Utah star QB Cameron Rising in the end zone with 17 seconds left to seal the victory.

In a game that went back and forth all night, Richardson stood out as the star, repeatedly making clutches with his arm and leg. Making his first career start at home in his hometown of Gainesville, Fla., the sophomore completed 17 of 24 passes for 168 yards, adding 103 rushing yards and a career-high three touchdowns on the ground. In addition to his good run in the final two minutes, Richardson’s 45-yard touchdown run in the second quarter put Florida ahead 14-13 going into halftime.

Rising had an impressive outing, but couldn’t lead the Utes to a game-tying field goal or a potential game-winning touchdown on the final drive. He threw a near-interception early in the final possession before Burney picked off Rising’s pass inside the 6-yard line on the penultimate play of the game.

Florida running back Montrell Johnson Jr. added 77 yards rushing on 12 carries and a touchdown in the fourth quarter, redeeming himself after a costly mistake on the Gators’ first drive of the game. Freshman RB Trevor Etienne rushed for 64 yards on five carries in his first career game. Richardson also got help from Arizona State wide receiver Ricky Pearsall, who caught four passes for 67 yards to lead all Gators’ pass catchers.

Utah entered the season with College Football Playoff aspirations, but they faced early danger at the hands of a hungry Florida team that looked poised to put last season’s 6-7 record in the past as the Napier era begins. Napier became the first coach in program history to lead the Gators to a victory over a ranked opponent in their opening game, while Florida continued the nation’s longest active winning streak with a win in its 33rd straight home opener.

What did we learn from the Gators’ dramatic win over the Utes? Let’s break down three takeaways from Saturday night’s game.

Richardson is a star

Johnson and Etienne made significant contributions on the field, and Pearsall shined in his debut, but Richardson was the clear MVP for Florida. After battling for the starting job last season with Emory Jones, who has since transferred to Arizona State, Richardson looked like one of the potential stars for the 2022 season. Not surprisingly, some project him as a first-round pick in the NFL draft for 2023

While his three touchdown runs stood out, especially the 45-yarder down the left sideline, Richardson’s 2-point pass with 12:48 remaining may have been the play of the game. Richardson escaped a pair of passes with a pump fake that gave him enough time to find Ja’Quavion Frazias wide open in the corner of the end zone to put the Gators ahead 22-19 after Johnson’s touchdown.

Without the 2-point conversion, a simple field goal might have been enough to put Utah ahead in the final seconds of the game, and Rising likely never would have made the kick into the end zone that led to Burney’s interception.

Utah’s new ceiling

Throughout the offseason, Utah has been anointed as the Pac-12’s best hope to end a CFP drought that dates back to 2016. After facing Ohio State in a Rose Bowl loss to end the 2021 season, the Utes returned 14 starters at one of the nation’s most established programs under coach Kyle Whittingham, who began his 18th year with the program Saturday night.

While the Week 1 loss didn’t completely eliminate Utah from CFP contention, it removed any margin for error and made the task especially daunting. The Utes started 1-2 last season with losses to BYU and San Diego State and still managed to win the Pac-12, but finished 11th in the CFP rankings, well outside of real competition.

With Oregon, USC and Washington all hiring new head coaches, Utah still has an excellent opportunity to repeat as conference champion. Once again, though, there isn’t much benefit of the doubt for a Pac-12 favorite when it comes to the playoff picture. With Utah’s loss, the conference is 1-8 against SEC teams in Week 1 over the past 11 seasons. Pac-12 teams were ranked in seven of those eight losses.

Redemption is sweet

Florida’s defense looked improved under new co-coordinators Patrick Tawney and Sean Spencer after Todd Grantham’s lackluster tenure in the role under previous coach Dan Mullen. However, Utah found consistent success in finding tight end Brant Kuite, who finished with nine catches for 105 yards and a touchdown. Burney was often the one matched up against Kuithe, a three-time All-Pac 12 performer. However, any shortcomings in the senior linebacker’s performance were more than made up for with his game-saving interception. The fifth-year senior will be remembered as a hero for his diving play on the line.

Bernie wasn’t the only one to redeem himself on Saturday. Johnson, whose fumbles on the play ended up leading to Utah’s first touchdown, not only held onto the ball the rest of the contest, but made the most of his touches. The transfer, who followed Napier from Louisiana to Florida, was the Gators’ leading rusher with 89 total yards and a score on the night.

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