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Thursday, December 07, 2023

Gators rout Eastern Washington, get back in the win column

Florida took it to the Eagles through the air, racking up 392 passing yards

Florida redshirt freshman quarterback Jalen Kitna saw his first action as a Gator Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022. He completed eight passes for 152 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Washington.
Florida redshirt freshman quarterback Jalen Kitna saw his first action as a Gator Sunday, Oct. 2, 2022. He completed eight passes for 152 yards and a touchdown against Eastern Washington.

Florida Gators football on a Sunday afternoon isn’t normal. 

The 24-hour shift of UF’s game against the Eastern Washington Eagles, a result of Hurricane Ian’s devastating landfall in Florida, led to the lowest attended home game this season. The action on the field, however, was lively, as UF made the most of its favorable matchup.

Florida (3-2, 0-2 SEC) defeated EWU (1-3, 0-1 Big Sky) 52-17 Oct. 2 inside Ben Hill Griffin Stadium. The Gators looked dominant in each phase of the game on the way to their largest margin of victory this season. Offensively it was a balanced attack; UF complimented 392 passing yards with 274 yards on the ground.

The Gators jump back into Southeastern Conference play next Saturday against the Missouri Tigers. Missouri nearly upset the then-No.1 Georgia Bulldogs, losing 26-22, a day before Florida took the field. The Tigers rank 12th in the SEC in offensive yards per game but have now shown they can play with anyone. UF is also facing a shortened week ahead of the homecoming matchup.

Eastern Washington began the game with the football and drove into Florida territory. Eagles quarterback Gunner Talkington led EWU on a 13-play, 49-yard drive that ended with a field goal to open the scoring. 

When the Gators’ offense and redshirt sophomore quarterback Anthony Richardson took the field, they wasted no time airing it out. Florida scored in just one play: a 75-yard touchdown connection between Richardson and redshirt junior wide receiver Justin Shorter. 

UF took the lead in 11 seconds. 

When Eastern Washington took the field for its second drive, it was once again a methodical thrashing of the Gators’ defense. However, like the previous possession, Florida tightened up once the Eagles crossed into the red zone. This time, UF forced a turnover on downs to hand the ball back to Richardson. 

The Gainesville native took the first snap of the drive and rolled to his right. Richardson then cut upfield with blockers paving the way for a 45-yard scramble. The Gators didn’t hesitate after the big run, scoring their second touchdown of the afternoon just three plays later. It was sophomore running back Montrell Johnson Jr. who hit pay dirt. 

In the first quarter, UF’s offense ran just five plays and was on the field for two minutes and five seconds. The unit scored 14 points and averaged 31.4 yards per play. 

On the Gators’ next possession, Richardson exited the game with an injury. His backup, redshirt freshman Jalen Kitna, entered the game and drove Florida into the red zone, including a solid 22-yard completion to junior wide receiver Ricky Pearsall for his first career pass. 

“We got that play call and I read it how we were taught,” Kitna said. 

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During another injury timeout, this time for EWU cornerback Darrien Sampson, Richardson reentered the Florida huddle. On the next play, redshirt sophomore running back Nay’Quan Wright scored a four-yard touchdown, his second of the season. 

Eastern Washington once again stalled on offense, relinquishing possession back to UF. For the second time in the game, the Gators needed just a single play to score. 

Richardson faked a handoff to freshman running back Trevor Etienne before flipping the ball back to Pearsall. He did the rest, taking the ball 76 yards to the house. 

Florida extended its lead to 28-3 in 16 seconds. 

“It’s [a play] that we’ve had in the chamber for a little bit,” UF head coach Billy Napier said. 

The Gators didn’t have to wait long to get back on offense; Eastern Washington running back Justice Jackson fumbled on the 40-yard line to set UF up in a favorable position. Four plays later, Richardson hit sophomore wide receiver Xzavier Henderson in the back of the endzone to add on another touchdown. 

Both sides entered their respective locker rooms at halftime with the Gators leading 35-3. 

Richardson looked to take another shot to begin the second half, but his decision was an errant one. He lofted a deep pass in the direction of Henderson, 49 yards down the field. The pass was intercepted by Eagles defensive back Marlon Jones Jr. 

“[Richardson will] be sick to his stomach when he sees it on tape,” Napier said. 

As the third quarter rolled along, the Gators tacked on a field goal before Richardson saw his afternoon come to an end. Kitna returned to the game and wasn’t shy about pushing the ball downfield. 

“In the past couple of weeks I’ve become more comfortable with him as a player,” Napier said. 

The Tacoma, Washington, native unloaded on his third throw of the game for a 62-yard

touchdown to freshman wide receiver Caleb Douglas. It marked the first touchdown of both of their collegiate careers. 

“I knew I was going to have a one-on-one shot outside, so I took my drop and let it fly,” Kitna said.

Later, redshirt junior Lorenzo Lingard, who transferred from Miami, scored his first touchdown as a Gator. He got a good amount of snaps in the latter moments of the game, totaling 45 yards on five carries to go along with the score. 

Eastern Washington eventually found the endzone in the fourth quarter. Talkington threw a well-placed over-the-shoulder pass to wide receiver Jakobie James for the Eagles’ touchdown. Eastern Washington would score once more with 3:17 to play; backup quarterback Kekoa Visperas ran in a 25-yard touchdown to skew the final score just a bit more.

The game was already sealed, however. Florida ran away with the game from the jump, despite the short-lived 3-0 lead EWU held in the opening few minutes. 

By the time the clock hit triple zeros, the Swamp was nearly barren. The Gators were back over .500 though and generated some positive energy to carry into the rest of their season.

“We’ll turn the page,” Napier said.

Florida’s game against Missouri is set for a noon kickoff and will be broadcast on ESPNU. 

Contact Joseph Henry at Follow him on Twitter @Josephhenry2424.

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Joseph Henry

Joseph Henry is a fourth-year sports journalism major and is the Alligator's sports editor. He previously worked as senior news director, assistant sports editor, men's basketball beat reporter, volleyball beat reporter and golf beat reporter. He enjoys sitting down to watch a movie as often as possible, collecting vinyl and drinking Dr. Pepper. 

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