In one of the most anticipated games of Week 4, the Florida Gators nearly pulled out the upset on the road against the Tennessee Volunteers, who now sit at No. 8. In a hard-fought contest, Florida football lost 38-33 and is now out of the Top 25.
After starting the season with a huge win over the then-No. 7 Utah Utes, the Gators have their share of ups and downs, losing at home to Kentucky and then beating South Florida before suffering this loss in Tennessee.
Still, not all is lost. Especially against the Volunteers on Saturday, there are some things worth noting that can play a role for the rest of the season.
With that being said, here are three takeaways from Florida’s tough loss to Tennessee in Week 4 of college football.
3. Florida football’s SEC hopes are fading away
The defeat to Tennessee not only made Florida’s record 2-2, it most importantly made its SEC record 0-2. What was already a difficult task now becomes nearly impossible. The SEC is always one of the toughest conferences in college football. Based on how things are going in 2022 so far, Florida will be once again left out of the list of potential title contenders.
As expected, Alabama and Georgia are on track for another year at the top. Both teams are currently 4-0 and 1-0 in conference play. Florida’s previous opponents, Kentucky and Tennessee, also have that same record. Additionally, Texas A&M, Arkansas and Ole Miss are either undefeated or have conference wins.
Four weeks into the season and after two SEC losses, it seems Florida’s hopes of a conference run are fading away. The big win over Utah in Week 1 gave a great first impression, but things have not worked out very well since then.
With games versus the Bulldogs and Aggies scheduled for later in 2022, the Gators could still surprise everyone. However, it would still be complicated to bounce back from the bad conference start.
2. Defensive line needs to step up
One of the biggest problems in Florida’s game on Sunday was defending Tennessee’s running game. The Volunteers only had three players with carries but still managed to get 227 on the ground. For comparison, Florida, which is known as a run-first team, only had 141.
Most notably, Tennessee quarterback Hendon Hooker finished the day with 112 rushing yards on 13 carries and a touchdown. Although he did get sacked three times, it did not make a huge difference in the end. The Volunteers also added two more scores on the ground with Jabari Small and Jaylen Wright.
Through the air, Hooker completed 22 of his 28 pass attempts for 349 yards and two touchdowns. The Gators only had two quarterback hurries.
Florida did lose many veteran defensive linemen this season. Because of that, head coach Billy Napier is relying mostly on inexperienced players for those roles. Perhaps the most important returner is linebacker Amari Burney, who had two sacks and 2.5 tackles for loss against the Volunteers.
However, the Gators need more. In a game decided by one possession, defending the running game better could have made things different. If Florida wants to really compete for big things, the defense needs to step up against SEC opponents.
1. Anthony Richardson can throw the ball too
Following his big game against Utah in Week 1, quarterback Anthony Richardson earned national attention. He scored three rushing touchdowns on 106 yards. But fans noticed that most of his game was coming through the ground.
Before Sunday, his best passing game also came in Week 1 when he completed 17 of his 24 passes for 168 yards. He then followed with two below-average passing performances. Combined, Richardson went 24-for-53 for just 255 yards. He also threw two picks and no touchdowns.
Against the Volunteers, Richardson finally had his big breakout game through the air. The quarterback completed 24 of his 44 pass attempts for an impressive 453 yards and two touchdowns. Despite the 54.5% completion rate and an interception, the game showed that he can indeed become a dual-threat quarterback:
The Draft Stock rollercoaster that is: Anthony Richardson 🐊
It took him till week 4 to throw a TD, and he completely took over in a battle with Tennessee 💪
🔘515 yards total
🔘4 total TD – 1 Int
All while being under pressure 22 times 🥵 pic.twitter.com/1c6vl0Mcdb
— Redshirt Heisman (@TasteOfSport) September 27, 2022
Since this is just his first full season as a starter, it is understandable he would struggle a bit. But with hopes of being a first-round selection in the 2023 NFL Draft and a Heisman Trophy contender, his limited passing game could turn out to be a major problem.
Now, with a 400-yard, two-touchdown game, Richardson could get more attention and respect. Not only that, but his improved passing makes Florida football a more dangerous and unpredictable team to play against. With a tough schedule ahead, the more diverse offense the better. Facing Georgia’s Jalen Carter will likely be his biggest challenge as a starter, so having the ability to throw quick yet effective passes could be a game-changer.
Should Richardson become a consistent passer, the Gators could return to the rankings and hope for a big bowl berth.