How Tennessee football fans can add to Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson's frustration
Florida will carry a quarterback problem to Tennessee.
The No. 12 Vols (3-0) can make it worse or provide a solution when they host the No. 22 Gators (2-1) on Saturday (3:30 p.m. ET, CBS).
Anthony Richardson, although projected as a first round NFL Draft pick, has been underwhelming and uncomfortable as Florida’s starter.
He hasn’t thrown a touchdown pass this season. His electric running skills have been bottled up the past two games and he has the worst passer rating of any starting quarterback in the SEC.
It’s been so bad that Florida coach Billy Napier’s wife and Richardson’s mother have been consulted in trying to reboot the presumed SEC star.
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“The average fan can tell (there’s a problem with the passing game),” Napier said. “My wife can. She’s informed me of that.”
Richardson said his mom told him to quit stewing over the four interceptions he’s thrown, which led to 21 points by Florida opponents.
The Vols would love to add to his frustration. But it will take a controlled pass rush and a loud Neyland Stadium to keep Richardson in check.
Neyland Stadium will be ‘a little louder’
Richardson has completed only 53% of his passes for 423 yards, no TDs and four interceptions.
Miscommunication in a new offense has created some problems in three home games. It should be harder at Neyland Stadium, but Napier thinks the environment will be manageable for his quarterback.
“It’s not like we’re going to Canada, and they’re going to change the rules,” Napier said. “It’s going to be the same game. It’s just going to be a little louder and played at a different location.”
Richardson, a sophomore, has never played at Tennessee. His only SEC road games were against LSU and Kentucky, both losses.
What is gap integrity, and why must Vols have it?
Richardson rushed for 106 yards and three TDs in a season-opening win over Utah. He has just 28 yards rushing and no TDs since then as Kentucky and South Florida contained him in the pocket.
It’s a priority for the Vols, who have been warned about Richardson’s playmaking ability if he breaks loose.
“Last year, his GPS (which measures speed) got to 23 (miles per hour),” Tennessee linebackers coach Brian Jean-Mary said. “That would make anybody pretty dangerous. You see his athletic ability pop off the screen.”
Gap integrity is the football jargon for what the Vols must do.
Pass rushers must stay in their lanes because drifting too far inside or outside their assigned gap could open seams for Richardson to exploit. Since Richardson has been ineffective from the pocket, it’s almost as important to keep him hemmed in as it is to sack him.
“We’ve got to do a good job of staying in unison and making sure we keep him corralled,” defensive end Tyler Baron said. “(We need to be) giving him different looks and making him read our defense and make the decision.
“Make him beat us.”
Vols have prepared for Richardson, sort of
It doesn’t appear Florida has a Plan B. Backup Jack Miller, an Ohio State transfer, is out with a broken thumb suffered in preseason practice.
So the Vols know their task: Contain Richardson and the Gators will struggle.
But that’s easier said than done. Last season, Tennessee pass rushers like Byron Young, a preseason All-SEC selection, struggled to stay in their lanes. He led the team with 5½ sacks but often overran quarterbacks – therefore, jeopardizing that pesky gap integrity.
Tennessee has eight sacks this season, third-most in the SEC. But it hasn’t faced a mobile quarterback like Richardson.
The closest was D.J. Irons, Akron’s dual-threat quarterback. Last week, the Vols tweaked their defense to contain him, but most of their game plan stayed on the shelf in the 63-6 win.
“We feel like we’re a week ahead (in preparing for) a quarterback run game,” Jean-Mary said. “But (Richardson) is a different animal.”
Reach Adam Sparks at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @AdamSparks.