GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Anthony Richardson could use a confidence boost.
The Florida quarterback was admittedly shaken during his two-turnover performance against Kentucky last week that included more than a dozen errant throws. He missed high and low, left and right, short and deep. He completed 14 of 35 passes for 143 yards in the 26-16 loss — both of picks led to touchdowns for the Wildcats — and he ran for just 4 yards.
Richardson gets a chance to redeem himself when the 18th-ranked Gators (1-1) host South Florida (1-1) on Saturday night, a seemingly well-timed matchup for the third-year sophomore who looked unstoppable against the Bulls a year ago.
“Pick the pen up and write a great page in the chapter of this part of your life and this part of your career,” coach Billy Napier told Richardson after his subpar outing. “Still a young player. I’m excited to be a part of that and to observe that. He’s a special kid.”
Richardson was in Florida’s season opener against then-No. 7 Utah, running for 106 yards and three scores while leading the Gators to a dramatic victory in the Swamp. He was the talk of the town and maybe the Southeastern Conference.
It lasted seven days.
Then-No. 20 Kentucky stacked the line of scrimmage and forced Richardson to be a pocket passer. He struggled and blamed himself after the loss.
“We lost, and I feel like it’s completely on me,” he said. “A lot of people say it’s not, but I feel like it’s on me. I played terrible. I didn’t do anything that would’ve helped my team. I tried to lead, but I didn’t feel like I did that real well. I take full responsibility for the loss.”
The Gators have spent the trying to build Richardson back up. Facing the Bulls could help, too. They rank 125th nationally in total defense, giving up nearly 500 yards a game.
Richardson torched USF off the bench last year, running four times for 115 yards and a touchdown. He also completed all three of his passes for 152 yards and two scores.
“We saw him up close and personal last year in our game,” USF coach Jeff Scott said. “It’s difficult when you’re playing a dual-threat guy who can throw it. He has an incredibly strong arm. … The big thing this week is we’re going to have to be able to wrap up. He’s a big, strong guy.”
The Gators will be without standout linebacker Ventrell Miller (lower body) and right tackle Michael Tarquin (lower body) against the Bulls. Both players left the loss against Kentucky. Miller, the team’s second-leading tackler, was a huge factor in the win over Utah.
Two redshirt freshmen are expected to step into starting roles: Scooby Williams for Miller, and Austin Barber for Tarquin.
Napier and Scott spent three years working together at Clemson under Dabo Swinney. Napier coached tight ends/receiving corps in 2008 and then was the team’s offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach (2009-10) while Scott worked with receivers.
“Jeff’s a football guy. He’s been in football families the entire time. His dad, obviously, Brad Scott was a phenomenal coach and a great mentor to me early in my career,” Napier said. “Jeff’s got great character. … He’s got a great offensive mind. He’s very organized, very much a CEO, got a good business mind, and a guy that I think is one of the bright young coaches in the game.”
South Florida has lost 12 straight games to ranked opponents. The Bulls also are 2-6 against teams from the SEC, with the last win coming against South Carolina in the 2016 Birmingham Bowl. They are 0-2 against Florida.
“I’ve been thinking about this game since I got here,” said USF defensive end Jatorian Hansford, a transfer who faced the Gators three times while at Missouri. “I’ve been ready to play Florida. I’m so ready to play them. I can’t describe how much I’m ready to play them.”