Lessons from the loss: Three things the Gators learned from game vs. Tennessee Volunteers

Kevin Brockway
Gator Sports
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Florida football will finish September splitting its four games, with both losses coming within the Southeastern Conference.

The Gators (2-2, 0-2 SEC) have been unable to consistently execute under first-year coach Billy Napier. Those mistakes are magnified in SEC games, where talent is high and the margin for error is slim. They showed up in Florida's 38-33 loss at Tennessee, where a pair of coverage busts led to two touchdowns for the Vols.

"We've got to do the simple things well," Napier said. "There's a dozen plays in that game where Florida beats Florida, if that makes sense. We've always taken great pride in being a team that doesn't give the opponent anything. You're going to have to earn every inch that you get when you play our team, right?

"We're still not there. We're still learning our systems. We're still learning how to adjust to playing different systems. I think there's a lot of repetition and growth that needs to take place to be the type of football team we want to be."

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Here are three things the Gators learned from the Tennessee game.

QB Anthony Richardson can throw the ball downfield

Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) throws to a receiver during the first half of an NCAA college football game against Tennessee, Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022, in Knoxville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

Anthony Richardson had struggled with accuracy his prior two games against Kentucky (14-35, 2 interceptions) and South Florida (10 of 18, 2 interceptions). But against Tennessee, with a defense primed to stop the run, Richardson showed he could connect on passes downfield. He completed 24 of 44 passes for a career-high 453 yards, with eight completions of 20 yards or more, including a 38-yard strike to wide receiver Ricky Pearsall and two 39-yard passes to wide receiver Justin Shorter.

"The matchup was different,"  Napier said. "We played South Florida, and we could turn around and hand the ball off pretty consistently. He wasn't maybe in the groove, if that makes sense, We knew going into the park that we were going to give him the ball and let him go play. We'll continue to do that."

The key for Richardson is to develop consistency with his accuracy going forward to keep opposing defenses honest.

"It's just part of him being a young player," Napier said. "No different than you draft an NFL quarterback in the first round and, hey, he's your guy, let's go. There's been a number of rookie quarterbacks that have been through that same process."

Third-down defense remains a problem

Florida has allowed its opponents to convert on 52 percent on third downs this season. Tennessee went 6 of 9 on third down conversions on Saturday, including a third-and-10 completion with 1:33 remaining in the second quarter in which UF defensive end Brenton Cox Jr. missed a possible sack. That play kept Tennessee's 12-play, 99-yard touchdown drive late in the second quarter alive, which put the Vols up 17-14 at halftime.

"We haven't met our objective a couple of weeks in a row here on third down," Napier said. "I think, when we watch the defensive tape, it's simple. It's one player not doing what he's supposed to do quite often. It's a guy busting the coverage. It's a guy not in his pass rush lane. It's a guy mis-fitting a run."

Changes need to be made on defense, but when?

Florida made one change on the defensive depth chart last week when Desmond Watson, who had 3 tackles against Tennessee, replaced Jalen Lee as the starter at nose tackle. But more changes could be coming in the future.

True freshman Kamari Wilson saw more snaps at safety after starting safety Trey Dean's second-quarter coverage bust. Dean and strong safety Rashad Torrence, who had a team-high 13 tackles against the Vols, have been inconsistent throughout the season.

"We're going to evaluate previous performance combined with what we observe Sunday to Saturday, and it's always based off of merit. It's based off of production," Napier said. Then obviously what we're observing every day. I think that will be the same approach going forward."

Florida surrendered 10 pass plays totaling 279 yards against the Vols, which speaks to problems on the back end of the defense.

"Secondary, in particular, is a position, much like our entire team, where we play well at times but we're a little bit inconsistent at times," Napier said. "I think each position on our team — sometimes the magnifying lens gets put on certain plays or certain situations as they follow the ball, but I do think that they're much like every position on our team. They do a lot of things well, but we're looking for more consistency."

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