Gene Frenette: For Florida football to succeed, Anthony Richardson can't be Jekyll-and-Hyde

Gene Frenette
Florida Times-Union
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The Florida Gators’ offense and quarterback Anthony Richardson had a come-back-down-to-earth sequence Saturday night against Kentucky that was astounding by the depth of their collective unraveling. 

While the Gator defense mostly upheld its responsibility, the other side of the ball proved to be quite the opposite, a jarring slap back to reality after last week’s thrilling 29-26 win over then No. 7-ranked Utah. 

Richardson gifted Kentucky 14 points on two ghastly interceptions -- going from hero to goat in a seven-day span -- as the UF offense went completely in the tank its last eight possessions of a 26-16 defeat before a sellout crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. 

Florida falls:Five takeaways from No. 19 Florida Gators loss to No. 20 Kentucky at The Swamp

More analysis:Losing to Kentucky shows Florida Gators they have a long way to go | David Whitley

More from Gene Frenette:Gators QB Richardson carries big burden

This game had all the makings of a potential Gator rout when the Wildcats took a safety as a bad snap sailed over punter Collin Goodfellow. It forced him to kick the ball out of the end zone, giving Florida a 16-7 lead with 2:47 left in the second quarter. 

But Richardson, who earned both SEC and national player of the week honors for his performance against Utah, looked overmatched against a Kentucky defense that bottled him up all night and forced him into being a pocket passer. He failed miserably, completing just 14 of 35 passes for 143 yards and two astonishing picks.  

Kentucky Wildcats defensive back Keidron Smith (1) avoids the tackle of Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) after making an interception during a game against the Florida Gators at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field, in Gainesville FL, Sept. 10, 2022.   [Brad McClenny/The Gainesville Sun]

The first one came on a throw into the right flat, where Kentucky defensive lineman Jordan Wright reached up with his left hand and cradled the ball into his body, returning it 18 yards to the UF 6. That led to a 1-yard TD run by quarterback Will Levis, but it was only the beginning of Richardson’s alarming regression. 

Kentucky didn't let Anthony Richardson run

From that point on, the Gators managed just 87 total yards and five first downs on their remaining eight possessions. Richardson was no threat at all running with just four yards on six attempts. 

Richardson’s second interception was an abominable decision, a throw to the right side again that Kentucky cornerback Keidron Smith, an Ole Miss transfer, easily picked off and rambled 65 yards to the end zone with 6:35 left in the third quarter. 

It kept Richardson in a funk, something he could never shake the entire game. He didn’t just miss some throws on his non-interceptions, but was like a pitcher unable to avoid wild pitches. Throws were routinely high, low and behind receivers. 

“I thought I could get around to the end,” Richardson said about the first interception. “I didn't want to throw over the top because I know he was a long player so I tried to saddle him and he just made a great play on that one. The second one is flashbacks of the Georgia game [in 2021]. Same thing, I just threw it right to the dude.” 

Billy Napier must fix Anthony Richardson's inconsistency

Richardson, a Gainesville native making his third career start, didn’t try to hide his disappointment. Florida head coach Billy Napier has often said how much his quarterback cares about getting better and fixing mistakes. It showed after the game by how hard he was on himself. 

“I missed a lot of different throws and my confidence got shot,” sid Richardson. “It affected my receivers poorly, missing them wide open, so I know their confidence probably went down as well. I didn’t help my O-line, I didn’t help my running backs. I failed the team.” 

Florida Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) tackles Kentucky Wildcats linebacker Jordan Wright (15) after an interception during a game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field, in Gainesville FL, Sept. 10, 2022.

That admission was a grim reminder of the stark contrast from his Week 1 performance. It’s hard to recall the last time a Florida quarterback looked so spectacular against a quality opponent one game, then dreadful the following week on the same field. 

Florida was projected to be a middle-of-the-pack SEC East team before the season, and that’s precisely what the Gators looked like against Kentucky. They couldn’t get out of their own way, suffering a defeat that is sure to temper fan expectations a bit. 

Not that Napier’s team can’t recover and have a good year, but the raging inconsistency by Richardson has to be a concern moving forward. 

You can’t have success in the SEC with a Jekyll-and-Hyde quarterback. This has to be fixed, and quickly. 

Gfrenette@jacksonville.com: (904) 359-4540  

Gene Frenette Sports columnist at Florida Times-Union, follow him on Twitter @genefrenette

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