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Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Richardson rolls, Gators defense commands second half in win

Florida claims second conference victory against depleted Aggies

<p>UF quarterback Anthony Richardson looks to the stands at the end of the third quarter of the Florida-Georgia game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022. </p>

UF quarterback Anthony Richardson looks to the stands at the end of the third quarter of the Florida-Georgia game Saturday, Oct. 29, 2022.

Anthony Richardson looked confident against Texas A&M. His 279 yards accounted for roughly 57% of Florida’s 492 total yards — the third most prolific offensive showing by the Gators this season. 

The redshirt sophomore was poised in College Station, Texas, ending the game with his second highest completion percentage of the season — 60.7% — when throwing 20 or more passes. Richardson also totaled four touchdowns on the day, tying his season-high mark. 

Two of his best performances of this year have come when UF entered enemy territory; Richardson had career numbers when Florida traveled to Knoxville, Tennessee, in September. The Gators have only played two true road games this season, the difference against Texas A&M being they actually closed out a victory. 

Postgame, Richardson said any Southeastern Conference win is a blessing.

“A road win against a tough opponent, it just allows us to come out here and play football and see where we are at,” Richardson said. “We are feeling good, and we are excited.”

Florida now sits one win away from bowl eligibility after its 41-24 win over the Aggies Nov. 5. The get-right outing was exactly what the Gators needed following two losses and before hosting South Carolina Saturday. UF’s defense improved on a rocky first half, where it allowed 307 yards and 16 first downs by shutting out the Aggies in the second half.

UF head coach Billy Napier credited the turnaround to the connectivity between his players and their leadership qualities. 

“I think we could’ve easily got frustrated with our defensive performance in the first half, but man, in that locker room, you would never know,” Napier said. “It’s really a group that stuck together. They knew exactly what the issues were.”

Redshirt senior linebacker Ventrell Miller addressed how the defense came out “flat-footed” in the first 30 minutes of the game. After halftime, Florida forced five punts and two turnovers while applying constant pressure on Texas A&M quarterback Haynes King. 

“Everyone came out and did their job, and we showed them how the Florida Gators defense could play,” Miller said. 

One of the biggest question marks prior to the Gators’ trip to the Lone Star State was how they would replace the production of outside linebacker Brenton Cox Jr., who was dismissed from the team Oct. 31. The answer came in the performances of Antwaun Powell-Ryland Jr., who had two tackles for loss, a sack and forced a fumble, and Lloyd Summerall III. 

“They knew what was on the line, and I’m proud of how they stepped up,” Miller said. 

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Early on, Florida struggled to contain Aggies running back Devon Achane. The junior racked up 104 total yards and a career-high three touchdowns in the first half alone.

Achane made plays all over the field, but many of his teammates missed the game against Florida as some Texas A&M players had the flu. ESPN college football senior writer Pete Thamel reported just 27 minutes before the scheduled kickoff time that six Aggies would miss the game due to the illness, and he added four more unavailable due to other injuries. 

“Besides the sickness and the guys coming up out, that's neither here nor there,” Texas A&M head coach Jimbo Fisher said after the game. “You got to play with the guys you got and we have plenty [of] good players and we had plenty of opportunities today to do what we needed to do.”

Attention in Gainesville now shifts toward Florida’s final home game of the season against South Carolina. The Gamecocks have won five of their last six games and toppled the SEC’s lowest-ranked team, Vanderbilt, Nov. 5. 

South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler is in his first year since transfering from Oklahoma, and he’s had a far from perfect season. Rattler has thrown more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8). The Gamecocks’ offense could provide an opportunity for Florida’s defense to build off its strong second half against Texas A&M.

The Gators, who are given a 70.8% chance to win according to ESPN’s Football Power Index as of Sunday evening, and South Carolina will meet in the Swamp Saturday at 4 p.m. The game from Ben Hill Griffin Stadium will be broadcasted on the SEC Network. 

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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