DAVID WHITLEY

Grading Florida's Week 1 performance: How did offense, defense and special teams look?

David Whitley
Gator Sports

Gainesville Sun sports columnist David Whitley passes out unit grades for Florida's  season opener Saturday vs. Utah, a 29-26 win at home.

Offense: B plus

Florida's Trevor Etienne (7) rushes with the ball during the second half against the Utah Utes at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, on Saturday, Sept. 3, 2022.

Everybody talks about Anthony Richardson’s highlight-reel plays, but the most important stat was zero turnovers. He only forced the ball a couple of times and was poised under pressure. The game plan emphasizing short, quick throws kept Richardson in a comfort zone. He’s still a work in progress, but there’s been plenty of progress already.

The offensive line was solid, with runners averaging 7.3 yards on 39 carries. It helps to have a QB who can take off on 45-yard TD runs. Freshman Travis Etienne looks like he could be the big-play guy UF has been searching for. Etienne, Montrell Johnson and Nay’Quan Wright combined to gain a healthy 180 yards. Ricky Pearsall is a boost at receiver, though that position could use a home run threat.

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In his UF coaching debut, Billy Napier showed he knows how to get the best out of what he has to work with. He’ll have a good bit if Richardson stays on this trajectory.

Defense: C plus

Florida Gators linebacker Ventrell Miller (51) makes a tackle during the first half against the Utah Utes.

The best thing you can say about the defense is it made plays when it absolutely, positively had to. The two biggest were a goal-line stand in the third quarter and Amari Burney’s game-saving interception when Utah had driven to the 7-yard line.

The run defense was stout early, allowing just 59 yards on 14 attempts in the first half. Then Utah started living up to its grind-it-out image, as back Tavion Thomas and QB Cameron Rising finished with 229 yards on 39 carries. UF’s pass defense did pretty good job on everyone except tight end Brant Kuithe, who had nine catches for 115 yards.

Ventrell Miller’s return has solidified UF’s linebacking, but the line’s inability to stop the run and pressure the QB is a concern. But Kentucky will present the same problems Utah did, and UF can’t keep counting on goal-line heroics to save the day.

Special Teams: C

Florida kicker Adam Mihalek (49) with an extra point in the first half on Sept. 3, 2022.

The first play of the Napier Era featured a holding penalty on the kick return team. Fans had to be having 2021 flashbacks, but it wasn’t a sign of things to come. Special teams really didn’t factor much in the game, which was good and bad. The good was allowing only 45 total return yards on two kickoffs and a punt. But UF’s return game wasn’t much better. As for kicking, it will remain something of a mystery since Adam Mihalek only tried three extra points.