Billy Napier, welcome to the big show. Florida’s coach won’t ease into his head coaching career with a cupcake. His first game out of the box is a massive challenge.
By Matt Zemek
The Gators’ new leader takes on the reigning Pac-12 champion which is coming off its first-ever Rose Bowl appearance. Utah is a College Football Playoff contender with a proven quarterback and an established identity.
Utah doesn’t hide what it wants to do under head coach Kyle Whittingham. The Utes want to be physical. They want to run the ball. They want to get after the quarterback. They make no secret of what they want to be and how they intend to play. Can Florida stand up to Utah and make a loud statement in the first game of a new era?
Urban Meyer needed one season, in 2005, before he made Florida a powerhouse program, but in 1990, Steve Spurrier didn’t need extra time to get the Gators rolling. He finished first in the SEC standings that year, even though Florida was ruled ineligible for the postseason and was not officially crowned the champion of the conference. Can Napier make a stunning, Spurrier-like statement? We’ll know a lot more after Utah comes to The Swamp for a prime-time showdown.
Here’s what the Gators need to focus on more than anything else:
1 – Let Anthony Richardson run wild, and we do mean RUN
Emphasize the run if you have a running quarterback. Richardson will need to make some big pass plays, but when a quarterback is such a gifted runner, that dimension of his game needs to be prominent, especially in a season opener and even more particularly against a team which generates a good pass rush. In the first game of a season, college football players can easily require a little time to get into the right frame of mind. In early-season games, players don’t always tend to the smaller details which become easier to absorb as the season moves into October. In a Week 1 game, Utah pass rushers might not be fully polished in terms of shutting off running lanes. They might be so eager to get a sack that they rush upfield and get caught out of position. Anthony Richardson could pop off a 60-yard touchdown run this way, and it might be Florida’s best chance to score against Utah’s defense. Making plays with his legs more than his arm is how Richardson could realistically change the shape of this game.
2 – Stop Brant Kuithe
Utah’s tight end is a very difficult matchup for any defense. He was lethal in the Rose Bowl against Ohio State, and the game Utah controlled most of the way took an abrupt and negative turn for the Utes when Kuithe left with an injury. If there’s one pass catcher Florida must contain, it’s Kuithe.
3 – Strike early
Florida can’t keep trick plays or special formations in hiding until the second half. The Gators can’t bide their time and wait for the right moment to spring a surprise on the Utes. They need to get a lead in the first quarter and force Utah to play from behind, something the Utes are not good at. Get a 10-0 lead, force Utah to panic, and be ultra-aggressive. That’s how to pull a major upset in Week 1.