Typically, a 17-of-28 passing performance for 201 yards and a pair of touchdowns against a 3-5 team wouldn’t be a career milestone for a quarterback, though Florida coach Billy Napier was of the opinion Saturday’s showing for sophomore signal-caller Anthony Richardson would be a day to remember for Florida’s starter under center.
“I told Anthony there late in the game, Anthony’s going to play this game for a long time,” Napier said, “and I think he’ll look back and I think this will be one of those days where he’ll say, this was a pivotal day – playing with confidence.”
Richardson, for the third consecutive contest, played turnover-free football and avoided making detrimental decisions – two areas of Richardson’s game that were in need of improvement early into the 2022 campaign. He added 78 yards and two additional scores with his legs, including a 60-yard dash late in the first quarter.
Adding to the impressive performance was the fact it came on the road in one of the SEC’s more hostile environments.
To see Richardson lead Florida to its first away victory in conference play since Dec. 5, 2020, left Napier with the impression his quarterback had turned another corner in his continued development.
“Thought he started fast, really thorough in his prep during the week. He’s a 20-year-old first-year starter in a new system. Again, I think Anthony’s problems aren’t physical. I think it’s about development, it’s about getting comfortable with a role, being a leader, being vocal, improving as a communicator, playing as a competitor and playing for your teammates – taking yours and betting theirs,” Napier said. “I just really think today was a big step in the right direction for him.”
Not that Richardson necessarily needed the encouragement or reassurance after the victory, but it was a message Napier was quick to reiterate to his quarterback, throughout the contest and at the conclusion of Florida’s second-half shutout of the Aggies.
Rather than push back on the assertion Saturday’s performance was indicative of his strides he’s made, Richardson concurred with his head coach when it came to the sentiment the Gainesville native has progressed with the season.
Yet Richardson hasn’t lost sight of the fact there remain areas of his game in need of improvement.
“We definitely talked in between drives, especially at the end of the game there. Just conversations, he was telling me this was going to help me play in the future. All week I’ve just been working on my leadership, just trying to hold guys together and just keep the team pushing,” Richardson said. “Allowing us to come out there and play fast, play strong. But he told me this was going to be a turning point of my career in my life. I kind of see that, because I think I’m getting back with my leadership. So, that’s kind of something I want to keep improving on. And that’s pretty much what he touched upon.”
Despite his position on the field, tasked with leading the offense daily as an SEC starting quarterback, Richardson’s quick to acknowledge the vocal leadership aspect is unfamiliar territory for the former Eastside High standout.
Richardson, who comes across as clearly insightful yet can be soft-spoken at times during appearances with the media or in public, isn’t naturally one to command a room; he understands the communication aspect is a prerequisite for leadership, however.
As he’s gained more experience as the starting quarterback, Richardson’s improvement extends to his ability to lead, where he’s been striking a better balance as of late instead of attempting to be someone he’s not.
“It’s a challenge trying to be a leader, but sometimes you gotta fight through those challenges and try to grow,” Richardson said. “It’s definitely new. Because as a leader, I haven’t always been the type of guy to communicate a lot. I just try to lead by example and show guys how to do things. But, I see that’s not the only way you can be a leader. You can lead by example and then communicate with guys and connect with them. It makes it a lot easier to lead people.”
He’s reached the juncture where highlight-reel plays are less desirable achievements for Richardson than running a tidy and effective offense. He’s proven capable of doing the former, while the latter has remained elusive up until this point for Richardson.
While his ability to freelance and make something happen out of nothing can extend drives and increase the amount of chances Florida has to score, they can lead to detrimental sequences from either an injury or turnover standpoint.
“A lot of those things is just doing my job. Just trusting everyone else and trusting them to do their job. It feels great for me because Coach Napier, he hates turnovers. I’m sure we all do but he harps on it all the time. Just to see him smiling about that makes us feel good,” Richardson said. “I just try to play the game and just makes plays. If it happens to happen big that’s a blessing. I treat the 80-yard touchdown runs just like the two yard touchdown runs.”
In the final month of Napier’s first season at the helm, the Gators are a win away from secured much-coveted bowl eligibility, which would allow Florida to continue building on the foundation instilled by UF’s head coach.
It may be difficult to ignore the big-picture implications of the victory, but Richardson has the same approach to Florida’s season as he does to his continued development: stay the course and reap the rewards.
“Any point can really be a turning point in the season. After we lost a couple of games, we could have went backwards. After winning a couple of games, we could have tried to go forward. We just try to trust the system and trust Coach Nape,” Richardson said. “He talked to us and he let us know he had to make tough decisions and we had nothing but respect for that. We can see it as a turning point but we just gotta stay focused and keep learning.”