With an incredible coaching debut for new Gators head coach Billy Napier, beating top 10 ranked Utah in week 1, it seemed like the momentum would continue at home against Kentucky. Going into the game, Anthony Richardson looked like a real threat to be a Heisman sleeper. The Gators as a team looked like a possible threat to make some noise in the SEC East. However, this was all just false confidence, as the Kentucky Wildcats team came to ruin the party, beating Florida for the second year in a row.
Anthony Richardson: Non-Factor
After looking nearly perfect against Utah, with three touchdowns on the ground and no turnovers, there were expectations that Richardson was legit. However, he looked lost on the field against the Wildcats. Throwing-wise, AR threw 14 for 35 for 143 yards and two interceptions, with six rushes for four yards to accompany on the ground. These stats depict Richardson being a non-factor and someone who negatively impacted the game for the Gators.
The most crucial mistake Richardson made was his pick-six in the third quarter. That put Kentucky on top, and the Gators never recovered. It was an awful read and one you expect a Heisman sleeper not to force.
Will Levis: Another Non-Factor
What was supposed to be a fun QB matchup turned into a defensive game, with potential first-round pick Will Levis not showing his potential either. The differentiating factor between Levis and Richardson, however, is that Levis did not make nearly as many mistakes, as he threw for 202 yards with one TD and one pick.
In terms of confidence and awareness in the pocket, Levis looked stronger than AR, especially with his 55-yard bomb to Dane Key. This play was another crucial moment during the game, as it paused the momentum of the Gators in the 1st quarter.
The expectation was a potential shootout due to the talent at the QB position. The defense on both sides stepped up to the plate for a defensive battle. Both teams had under 300 yards and were inefficient on third down. A decision that essentially sealed the game was Napier deciding to go for it for fourth down on the Florida side of the field. The Wildcats were well prepared and had a massive stop, getting the ball with excellent field position and the ability to drain the clock.
Yes, this was a tough loss for the Gators, but I think the perspective should focus on the fact that this is a strong Kentucky team. Billy Napier has displayed the ability to acknowledge room for growth, not just for the team and himself. Realizing and accepting the need for improvement reflects well on the leader of the Florida program. This level of accountability should give Gator fans hope that they are in good hands.
Even in terms of star QB Anthony Richardson, Napier stated
"Anthony can do things better, but that starts with me. Part of coaching is putting your players in a position to succeed."
Not only is Napier taking accountability for AR’s lackluster performance, but he is putting his player in a position to get criticized less heavily, as he is taking partial blame.
The Wildcats proved themselves a legit contender to win the SEC East and have a schedule they can capitalize on. They are hosting their next two games against Youngstown St and Northern Illinois, so they should go into their road game against Ole Miss 4-0. That Ole Miss game will be one game that could potentially define the season, and the same goes for their road game against Tennessee a few weeks after. Besides Ole Miss and Tennessee, the only ranked matchup the Wildcats have is the Georgia game, which is a must-win if the Wildcats want any shot at winning the East.
The Gators have their big matchup with Tennessee in two weeks following the USF game, a rivalry game that can leave the Gators starting 2-2. If Napier can steer his team to a win, his team can likely go into their rivalry game with defending national champions Georgia 6-1, which would have a chance to be the game of the week.