Three things we learned from the Florida Gators loss to Kentucky in the SEC opener

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports

The No. 21 Florida Gators (1-1, 0-1 SEC) will look to regroup from their first loss of the season on Saturday when they host in-state foe USF (1-1).

After a Week 1 upset of then-No. 8 Utah, Florida took a step back offensively in a 26-16 loss to Kentucky, ranked No. 20 on Saturday and now No. 10 in the USA Today coaches poll. Florida reached the end zone just once against UK after scoring four touchdowns against the Utes.

"You don't get them back," UF coach Billy Napier said. "That's what losing does to you. It makes you very aware that you don't get back — there's no redos. You don't go back and fix those things.

"It causes you to have a different perspective, I think as a coach and as a player. I think everybody in the organization taking ownership in their role, maybe what could I have done better throughout the week, that could have impacted the outcome."

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Gators couldn't get run game going

The most notable difference offensively was on the ground as UF couldn't get its run game established. The Gators were held to just 136 yards on 4.5 yards per carry against Kentucky after rushing for 283 yards on 7.3 yards per carry the week before against the Utes.

"Watching the film, we knew that there's some mistakes we could have definitely tweaked up and minor issues we can address," Florida left tackle Richard Gouraige said. "This week is a new week to get better and work on the little things."

On the injury front, Napier said backup quarterback Jack Miller (thumb) is making progress but "not quite ready for action." The status of starting linebacker Ventrell Miller (lower leg) and starting right tackle Michael Tarquin (lower leg) will be announced later in the week.

Here are three things that were learned from the Kentucky loss: 

Anthony Richardson a work in progress

Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) looks to throw the ball during the second half against the Kentucky Wildcats at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Sept. 10, 2022.

Off a stellar performance against Utah, Anthony Richardson struggled with his accuracy and couldn't get going on the ground in his third career start at quarterback. He completed 14 of 35 passes for 143 yards with two costly interceptions that led to 13 points for Kentucky.

A handful of receiver drops didn't help Richardson's cause. Star Kentucky linebacker Jordan Wright spied Richardson for most of the game. The result was an inability to get things going on the ground, as Richardson ran for just four yards on six carries after rushing for 106 yards and three touchdowns the previous week.

The key will be how Richardson responds in Week 3 against USF (7:30 p.m., SEC Network). 

"Anthony's a young player," Napier said. "He's getting his first opportunity to be the guy. I just think this is part of the story. This is part of his growth. And he'll use that. This guy's a competitor. He's motivated, and I think he's going to take full advantage of the experience he's had, both good and bad."

Defensive line needs more depth

Justus Boone (2 tackles, 1 sack), Tyreak Sapp (3 tackles, 1 QB hurry) and 415-pound Dez Watson are emerging as valuable rotation players on the defensive front. But Florida is still relying on starting defensive linemen Brenton Cox Jr. and Gervon Dexter for heavy workloads throughout the game. That frontline fatigue contributed to Kentucky rushing for 107 yards on 22 carries in the second half after UF stymied the Wildcats on the ground in the first half.

"Some of the young players really — you saw Week 1 to Week 2 improvement, and you think about for them in their career, it was game one to game two improvement," Napier said of the defensive line. "So we're starting to get better play from some of that second tier."

Tight ends need to get more involved

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The best safety valve for a quarterback is the tight end, but to date, Florida has been unable to utilize the position effectively in the passing game. Through two ends, tight ends have been targeted just t times for 28 yards, with Keon Zipperer recording all three catches. Starting tight end Dante Zanders, coming off a strong off-season, has been targeted just once and has yet to make a catch.