Florida football: Five takeaways from the Gators' big win over Eastern Washington
In a rare Sunday game at The Swamp, rescheduled due to Hurricane Ian, Florida football dominated in all phases in a 52-17 rout of Eastern Washington before an announced crowd of 72,462.
The Gators (3-2, 0-2 SEC) bounced back from a 38-33 loss at Tennessee with big plays throughout the game, beginning with a 75-yard TD pass from quarterback Anthony Richardson to receiver Justin Shorter on Florida's opening offensive play.
"I was pleased to see us start fast in the game," Florida coach Billy Napier said. "Our defense, early, kind of bent but didn’t break. We forced a field goal in the red area and got off the field on fourth down. Although they moved the ball a little bit at times today, overall, offensively, (we were) able to answer."
Wide receiver Ricky Pearsall added a 76-yard touchdown run on a reverse, one of three rushing TDs in the first half for the Gators, as Florida built a 35-3 halftime lead.
Florida wound up with 666 yards of offense (392 passing, 274 rushing).
"We had our best week of practice, offensively in particular," Napier said. "Sometimes the opponent doesn’t matter. I think it’s about your urgency, your focus, your intensity. I thought our detail was better. We threw and caught the ball in practice this week better. That showed up on game day."
Here are five takeaways from Sunday's game.
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Anthony Richardson remains on point
Richardson, who threw for 453 yards and 2 TDs last week against Tennessee, picked up where he left off by hitting Shorter in stride to put the Gators up 7-3. He went 6 of 7 for 185 yards and 2 touchdowns in the first half and added a 45-yard run on a scramble in which he faked a handful of Eastern Washington defenders.
In the second quarter, Richardson left the game briefly after tweaking his ankle but returned to throw his second TD pass of the game, a 21-yard TD pass to Xzavier Henderson. Overall, Richardson completed 8 of 10 passes for 240 yards, 2 TDs and an interception before leaving the game late in the third quarter.
"You’re seeing a guy who’s settled in a little bit," Napier said. "He’s getting more familiar with what his routine should look like. What does my Monday look like? What does my Wednesday look like? He’s taking a true professional approach to the preparation part relative to situationally and down and distance, field zone, how I get familiar with the opponent early in the week prior to a Tuesday practice, and then physically how to take care of yourself."
Defense gets stops
After allowing Eastern Washington to gain 103 yards in the first quarter on two long drives, Florida's defense figured things out and played solid for the remainder of the game. UF was able to get off the field on third down and forced a pair of fourth down stops in the first half. The defense even forced one takeaway, with safety Miguel Mitchell forcing a fumble that was recovered by defensive lineman Chris McClellan. Florida held Eastern Washington to 8 for 18 on third-down conversions and 1 of 4 on fourth down tries. Eastern Washington still wound up with 411 yards of offense.
"We’re going to see we could have don’t some things better, better leverage, played with a little tighter coverage, a little bit better gap integrity at times," Napier said. "But I think we’re very much a work in progress there. I think all our guys got really good experience today and I think it will be beneficial for the future.”
Pass rush brings the heat
Florida was able to get pressure on Eastern Washington quarterback Gunner Talkington throughout the game. Brenton Cox recorded two early tackles for loss and Princely Umanmielen added a sack and forced fumble in the third quarter, but the Gators were unable to recover the loose ball. Linebacker Amari Burney also had a sack.
Jalen Kitna shines as backup QB
Jalen Kitna showed no signs of nerves in his first action of his college career. With Richardson out briefly in the second quarter with an ankle injury, Kitna connected with Pearsall on a pass downfield, setting up a Florida touchdown. In the third quarter, Kitna threw his first career TD pass on a 62-yard strike to freshman Caleb Douglas. He finished the game completing 8 of 12 passes for 152 yards and 1 TD.
“He did a great job," Napier said. "I would say in the last couple of weeks, I’ve become more comfortable with him as a player. I’m seeing him grow upon a practice setting, because you get a million reps as a 2 the way we do it. He’s a smart kid and he takes a lot of pride in his role. All he does is throw completions.”
The second half allowed for UF to empty its bench and get valuable experience for its second and third-team players. Florida played 81 players out of the 112 that were dressed. Running back Lorenzo Lingard scored his third career rushing TD, and first as a Gator, on an 11-yard TD run. Wide receiver Daejon Reynolds had a 54-yard catch in the third quarter and freshman wide receiver Caleb Douglas added a 62-yard TD catch.
"These are opportunities that you need," Napier said. "That's the good thing about today is we did what we needed to do so we can do that. Right? So, I think 17 players touched the ball today on offense or something like that. So a lot of young players out there and some veteran players that have been around here for a while that got opportunities and I think that's healthy for the locker room. It certainly will be beneficial in this coming week.”