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Florida shook off a slow start during a 42-0 win against against overmatched Vanderbilt, a tepid response to last weekend’s 20-13 flop at Kentucky.
Three things learned during the No. 20 Gators’ victory:
1. Anthony Richardson is not ready to start
Cries to start Richardson were replaced by a reality check. The athletic 19-year-old appeared to be the one thing worth the price of admission for a ho-hum homecoming matchup.
Richardson instead looked every bit the redshirt freshman.
After he replaced Emory Jones on the third series with Florida ahead 14-0, Richardson threw an interception on his first snap. He led a three-and-out possession the next time and failed to generate points during two fourth-quarter series.
Richardson‘s explosive playmaking ability captured the imagination of everyone who watched the FAU and USF wins while serving as a contrast to the struggling Jones during his first season as the starter.
Even at his best, Jones has a workmanlike style with a focus on executing the game plan. The redshirt junior knows intimately Dan Mullen’s scheme and expectations of his QB.
Jones still has to speed up his decision-making as a passer and improve it during RPOs, but he set career-highs with 273 passing yards and 4 touchdowns. Richardson threw for 25 yards and rushed for 11.
Richardson is learning, but his talent, big-play ability and potential are undeniable. In time, the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Gainesville native will live out his dream and become the Gators’ quarterback.
The time has not arrived. Jones remains the best option as well as Richardson’s biggest ally.
“I just went up and hugged him and grabbed him,” Jones said “I told him, ‘Everything is OK. You’re still learning.’ I went through the same things for three years and I know how hard it is.”
2. Special teams finally showed up
A missed extra-point forced the Gators to eventually go for two points during a 31-29 loss to Alabama. A blocked field goal returned by Kentucky was the difference in Lexington.
Leading 21-0 early, the Gators were in control against Vanderbilt but not in command until Mullen called a fake punt for redshirt freshman Jeremy Crawshaw. The strong-legged Australian jetted around the end for 28 yards to deliver a kangaroo punch to the Commodores.
“You can see why he’s a good athlete,” Mullen said.
The 6-foot-4, 193-pound Crawshaw’s speed was the biggest surprise of all.
“Yeah, he wasn’t going 100 percent in practice,” Jones said. “I saw that and was like, ‘Man, he’s about to go score.’”
Crawshaw also chipped in a 69-yard punt, giving him eight of 50 yards or longer in 19 attempts. Otherwise, the Gators’ special teams have vacillated between ordinary and concerning.
3. Nay’Quan Wright needs touches
The electric backup is unplugged too often.
The Gators’ three-headed approach is a nod to a crowded running back room. Yet Wright makes the most of his chances and certainly passes the eyeball test.
During a 34-yard run to the Vanderbilt 1-yard line, Wright made a jump-step to the side to avoid a tackler no tailback on the roster has in his repertoire.
“All he does is like setup; like he’ll look the opposite way and cut back,” Jones said. “I’m in the back watching it like, ‘I already know what he’s going to do.’ I just started running down the field.”
Curiously, Mullen gave the touchdown to Dameon Pierce on a 1-yard run rather than reward Wright, who still seeks his first score during SEC play but ended with a career-high 103 yards from scrimmage.
“That’s my fault. I should of got in right there, put my head down,” Wright said. “I just got to finish.”
Wright later showcased his pass-catching ability during a 51-yard grab to set up a 9-yard touchdown catch by Trent Whittemore to give Florida a 21-0 lead.
Yet Wright ended with just 9 touches, despite the absence of Malik Davis — the third wheel in the RB rotation. A few more chances for Wright would appear wise, though Mullen said appearances can be deceiving.
“When you roll the guys through sometimes, all the sudden like one game one guy might stand out more than the other,” Mullen said. “The hardest part for everybody and a lot of fans, it’s ‘Oooh, OK, so this guy stood out this game.’ Well it’s really not that to me; it’s we have trust in a bunch of guys and when you have the opportunity to make plays are you making them?”
In Wright’s case, the answer is a resounding yes.