Richardson shines, Burney seals Florida’s win vs. No. 7 Utah

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. – Standing in the tunnel and waiting to run into the raucous Swamp for the first time, Florida coach Billy Napier turned to an assistant and summed up the moment.

“Can you believe they pay us to do this?” he said.

It seemed like money well spent after the Gators delivered their biggest season-opening victory in more than 50 years.

Anthony Richardson ran for three scores in his second career start, including a 2-yard scamper with 1:25 remaining, and Florida upset seventh-ranked Utah 29-26 on Saturday night to get the Napier era off to a rousing start.

Richardson was the best player on the field most of the night. He really showed up down the stretch, although fifth-year linebacker Amari Burney was the one who sealed the victory for the rebuilding Gators. Burney intercepted Cam Rising‘s second-down pass into the end zone with 17 seconds remaining.

“Someone had to make a play, It happened to be me,” Burney said.

That set off a wild celebration for many of the 90,799 in attendance – the 10th most at home in school history. Richardson took a knee from there, and the Gators rushed the field to revel in their 33rd consecutive victory in home season openers. That’s the longest current streak in the nation.

“This group’s got a lot of fight in them,” said Napier, who replaced fired coach Dan Mullen in November. “They’ve got a little bit different edge to them.”

Richardson ran 11 times for 106 yards and was never stopped for a loss. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 168 yards and played turnover-free football.

“He’s going to get his (NFL payday),” Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. “He’s 6-4, 230 and runs like a 4.3. He’s a terrific player.”

Richardson’s best play? He had an electrifying 2-point conversion early in the fourth quarter that put the Gators up 22-19. He juked former Florida teammate Mohamoud Diabate with a pump fake and then sprinted right by fellow Utah linebacker Lander Barton before throwing a strike to Ja’Quavion Fraziers in the back of the end zone.

Utah answered and briefly took the lead, but Richardson responded. He moved the chains with a third-down throw and again with a fourth-down run, both of which set up his game winner.

“Just trying to make something happen. Glad it worked,” Richardson said.

Rising moved the Utes in position to steal one on the road for a team that entered the season with its highest preseason ranking in school history. But Rising’s last pass was his most important – or costly – of the night.

“It wasn’t Cam’s best throw,” Whittingham said. “I’m sure he’d like that back, but he played great.”

Rising completed 22 of 32 passes for 216 yards, with a touchdown and the turnover. He also ran for 91 more.

Tavion Thomas had 115 yards rushing and a score for Utah, which caught a break when it rained about two hours before kickoff and erased whatever advantage Florida had with sweltering summer heat and humidity.

GAME CHANGERS

The difference was Florida’s success and Utah’s failure in the red zone. The Gators scored touchdowns on all three trips into the 20-yard line. The Utes had the late turnover and were stuffed on consecutive downs at the goal line to open the third quarter.

Utah also settled for two first-half field goals, one from 43 yards and another from 31.

THE TAKEAWAY

Utah: The defending Pac-12 champions showed resiliency on the road, battling back to take the lead in the fourth quarter. Despite the loss, the Utes have enough talent and experience to be a factor in the chase for the College Football Playoff.

Florida: The Gators don’t look like they’ll in rebuilding mode for long. Napier’s recruiting has jumped in the last two months and a game like this could do wonders to help him close the gap on Southeastern Conference heavyweights Alabama and Georgia.

“There’s a lot of good energy in the locker room right now,” Richardson said.

MILLION DOLLAR HANDSHAKE

Napier showed a bit of modern-day coaching nuance in the first half when he left his team during a timeout to offer millionaire booster Hugh Hathcock a handshake and a partial hug. Hathcock is one of the program’s top donors.

Hathcock, who owns Velocity Automotive Solutions, gave the University Athletic Association a $12.6 million gift in April. Some of the money will be used to renovate Florida’s aging basketball practice facility and some is sure to help the football program. The Gators plan to name a suite tower at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium and its basketball complex after Hathcock.

UP NEXT

Utah: hosts Southern Utah next Saturday. The in-state teams played once previously, with the Utes winning 24-0 in 2016.

Florida: continues its tough opening stretch when it hosts No. 20 Kentucky to being SEC play next Saturday night.

WVU RB Donaldson in concussion protocol, out for Baylor game

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MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) West Virginia running back CJ Donaldson is in concussion protocol and will miss next week’s home game with Baylor after he was injured in a loss to Texas, coach Neal Brown said Tuesday.

Donaldson remained on the ground after he was tackled on a short gain in the third quarter of Saturday’s 38-20 loss to the Longhorns. His helmet and shoulder pads were removed and he was carted off the field on a stretcher. After the game he was cleared to travel home with the team.

“He’s recovering,” Brown said. “There is a strict return-to-play (policy) that we have to follow here and I’m zero involved in it. All I do is ask the question. They don’t even start the return-to-play until they’re symptom free.”

Donaldson, a 240-pound freshman, leads the Mountaineers with 389 rushing yards and six touchdowns, with an average of 6.9 yards per carry.

West Virginia (2-3, 0-2 Big 12 Conference) is idle this week and hosts Baylor (3-2, 1-1) next Thursday, Oct. 13.

Taulia Tagovailoa says he visited brother, Tua, over weekend

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COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Maryland quarterback Taulia Tagovailoa was able to visit his brother, Tua, last weekend after the Terrapins’ game against Michigan State, he said Tuesday in his first comments to reporters since Tua left the Miami Dolphins’ game against Cincinnati last Thursday with a frightening head injury.

Taulia played in Maryland’s win over Michigan State on Saturday but was not made available to the media afterward. He said Tuesday he was able to go to Florida and spend some time with his brother, who suffered a concussion four days after taking a hit in another game but was cleared to return.

“He’s doing good, everything’s fine,” he said. “My biggest thing was just seeing him and spending as much time as I can with him. I came back Sunday night.”

Tagovailoa said he appreciates the support for his brother.

“My brother’s my heart. He’s someone I look up to, someone I talk to every day,” he said. “It was just a hard scene for me to see that.”

Tagovailoa said he was in constant contact with his mother about his brother’s situation, and he was finally able to talk to Tua on Friday night.

“I really just wanted to go there and just spend time with my family, hug them and stuff like that,” Taulia Tagovailoa said. “But he told me he’s a big fan of us, and he’d rather watch me play on Saturday. … After that phone call, I was happy and getting back to my normal routine.”

Tagovailoa indicated that his brother’s injury didn’t make him too nervous about his own health when he took the field again.

“I guess when that happens to someone like my brother, or when anything happens to one of my family members, I don’t really think of how it will be able to affect me,” he said. “I just think of: `Is he OK? How’s he doing?”‘

Although it was a short visit to Florida, he said he and Tua made the most of their chance to be together.

“I just wanted to make sure he’s healthy and stuff, which he is,” Taulia Tagovailoa said.