It wasn’t exactly the same as a fall Saturday in the Swamp, but it’s as good as Florida fans will get until September.
Billy Napier’s team bolted onto Steve Spurrier-Florida Field between pillars of smoke and lights, the adoration of football-starved spectators falling down from the stands like rain.
“It was electric out there,” Napier said. “Even better than I expected.”
The Gators hosted their annual spring game Thursday night inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The exhibition is a showcase of what is to come this season, and an opportunity to wow recruits.
Florida’s football roster was split right down the middle, and as per tradition donned the school’s iconic orange and blue. The latter demolished the former 34-0.
It was no secret that everyone in attendance had their eyes locked on quarterback Anthony Richardson. With Emory Jones departing the program to the transfer portal, Richardson now has clear control of the offensive reins.
The home-grown Gainesville native was slinging the rock to begin the game. Richardson led three scoring drives for the Blue offense. He impressed by missing on only two throws, 13-15. The sophomore was placing passes with ease and reading the defense like a seasoned veteran.
“I can’t say it enough, his approach has been first class,” Napier said.
Richardson racked up 167 yards in the opening half, tossing two touchdowns as well. His longest completion of the half came on Blue’s second drive of the game, a 29-yard completion to tight end Noah Keeter. The redshirt sophomore was also on the receiving end of a touchdown as the half neared its end.
“The way [Richardson] pushed the ball down against the defense and just put it in the endzone was amazing,” redshirt freshman cornerback Jordan Young said.
On the other sideline, things weren’t as easy for Orange quarterback Jack Miller III.
The Ohio State transfer ended the first half completing just 56% of his attempts for 104 yards. Miller did throw an egregious interception, however, focing a ball into triple-coverage in the endzone.
The pick was pulled down by safety Donovan McMillon. He, along with the rest of the Blue defense, kept their Orange counterparts off the scoreboard for the entire exhibition. On the opening drive of the game, kicker Chris Howard missed a 32-yard field goal attempt, Orange’s only real chance at points all contest.
The third quarter featured a lot more of the same. The same being Richardson wheeling and dealing all over the Orange defense.
“[It's] pretty easy when 15 is back there throwing it around,” Napier said.
After a three-and-out on its first possession, the Blue squad responded by forcing a fumble by running back Demarkcus Bowman. Richardson converted the turnover into points on the very next play, a 12-yard touchdown rush to extend the Blue lead to 28-0.
Special teams made some noise in the spring game too. Redshirt freshman kicker Adam Mihalek nailed a 52-yard field goal in the third quarter. His make tied the Orange and Blue game record set by Chris Hetland in 2006 and matched by Eddie Pineiro in 2016.
Mihalek hit again from 48 yards in the fourth quarter. The Tampa, Florida, product impressed under the pressure and outshined veteran Howard.
An area of production that needed answers was at running back. The departures of Dameon Pierce and Malik Davis left a void at the top of the depth chart. All of Florida’s options got theirs Thursday night, the backs from both sidelines combined for 145 ground yards.
Bowman led the way with 61 yards on 17 carries, but Louisiana transfer Montrell Johnson also stuck out on the stat sheet. Johnson played snaps on both sides, carrying the ball 15 times for 62 yards and a score.
Napier said that running backs Gabriel Ortiz and Lingard suffered injuries during tonight’s scrimmage. He used the opportunity to show the significance of Johnson’s presence on the team.
“That’s where we were able to take advantage of the portal,” Napier said. “Montrell was what the doctor ordered.”
Overall, the first year coach was pleased with the team’s performance. Napier confirmed the Gators still have plenty of work ahead of them, though, as summer camp is on the horizon.
Soon enough, the Utah Utes will be rolling up to the Swamp Sept. 3.
Contact Joseph Henry at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.