The Utah Utes came into the season with a ton of hype, fresh off a Pac-12 championship. The Utes' 2021 Season saw them take down Oregon in a convincing fashion, not once, but twice at the end of last season, which was reason enough for their No. 7 rank to start this season.
That hype came with them to Gainesville, but it stayed in the Swamp with the home team, as the Florida Gators upset Utah 29-26, in an action-packed back-and-forth game on Saturday night.
Buckle up, Gators fans. The fun is just beginning.
Gators Begin Napier Era with a Bang
The Billy Napier era in Florida has officially begun, but the talk of the night belongs to Quarterback Anthony Richardson, who put his team, and the game, on his shoulders. Richardson gave the Gators a shot of adrenaline with a 45-yard touchdown run in the second quarter that put Florida up 14-13 heading into halftime. Richardson would finish with 106 yards on the ground and three rushing touchdowns to go along with 168 yards through the air. Utah, who has been celebrated for its tough defense, simply couldn't find an answer for the dual-threat quarterback all night.
That's not to say that Utah didn't put up a fight. Utah quarterback Cameron Rising was impressive, as the junior went 17-for-24 for 168 yards, a TD, and an interception (more on that later) keeping Utah in the game until the final drive. Utes running back Tavion Thomas also contributed to the cause with 155 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
But in the end, Rising couldn't lead the Utes to victory. On second-and-goal from the Florida 6-yard line late in the fourth quarter, Rising was picked off by linebacker Amari Burney, sealing the victory for the Gators. History repeats itself, as Florida still has not lost a season-opener in Gainesville since 1989.
Amari Burney picks off Cam Rising to seal the game ?pic.twitter.com/K4sfqysTlG
— 247Sports (@247Sports) September 4, 2022
Utah's hopes of becoming College Football Playoff crashers this season were put in grave danger at the hands of an electric Florida team that was poised to prove that they are better than their 6-7 record last year. Adding salt to the wound, the Utes were the only ranked team this week to go down to an unranked team.
This is just the beginning for the reigning Pac-12 champs, as Utah still has Oregon and USC on the schedule and thanks to the Gators, there's ZERO room for error. For the Utes to still have a shot at the playoffs, they will need to go undefeated the rest of the season and would probably still need some help to hear their names called by the committee.
Big Takeaways from Florida's Upset of Utah
Anthony Richardson is a star. The Florida signal-caller showed flashes as a backup last season, but he really dazzled on Saturday night in primetime. Richardson has already been generating big-time NFL draft buzz withTodd McShay and Mel Kiper high on the young quarterback. He showed poise and good decision-making in the face of a tough Utah defense, which he was able to read and adjust to quickly. Nowhere was this more evident than his fourth quarter two-point conversion that saw him pump fake and evade two Utah defenders with some fancy footwork in the open field to find Ja'Quavion Fraziars wide open in the back of the endzone.
— Follow @TPortalCFB (@CowardlyDoggo) September 4, 2022
Does Florida Deserve to be Ranked After Their Week 1 Win?
After their quarterback shined and their defense still stood tall to seal the upset, it wouldn't be surprising to see Florida crack the top 25. New head coach Billy Napier's squad didn't get much preseason consideration, but they definitely made the best case they could this week.
With No. 23 ranked Cincinnati going down to No. No. 19 Arkansas and No. 24 Houston needing triple overtime to get past USTA, there's room for a new team or two crack the Top 25 this week. Penn State has a claim, as do Texas and Tennessee, but after the biggest upset of the week, Florida should definitely be at the top of the list. And if not, another chance to prove themselves is just around the corner, when Florida invites Will Levis and No. 20 Kentucky to the Swamp in Week 2. That game could well be a battle of potential future first-round quarterbacks.
But don't think about that too much, Gainesville. Go celebrate this big win while you can.
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