Kyle Whittingham’s teams have always been known for their stout, stingy, and dynamic defenses, but rarely are they tested in a season opener against what could be one of the most prolific offenses in the SEC. Saturday night, they’ll do just that.
While Utah is getting a fair amount of preseason hype, Florida’s Anthony Richardson (6’4”, 232 lbs) is receiving just as much pre-season hype, with many comparing the sophomore to Cam Newton, the former Auburn Tiger and Heisman winner whose dual-threat approach made for must-see TV over a decade ago.
Florida fans are already familiar with Richardson, who was thrown to the wolves in his first career start against Georgia last season, though he appeared in eight games total throughout 2021, backing up the current Arizona State starter, Emory Jones. Richardson performed well enough to suggest the Newton comparisons aren’t fully hyperbolic, completing 38 of 64 pass attempts for 529 yards and six touchdowns while averaging 7.9 yards per carry on 51 rushing attempts and an additional three TDs on the ground. Richardson’s mobility gives him the ability to extend drives, though his five interceptions give some pause.
Much like Utah, the Gators' ground game was very much a “by committee” approach last season, but with their top two running backs now in the NFL, sophomore Nay’Quan Wright (5’9”, 202 lbs) will be stepping up into a larger role after accounting for just 326 yards and one TD last season. Wright could most closely be compared to Micah Bernard, as both showcase burst speed and nimble feet with a pass-catching ability that makes him a threat from anywhere on the field. Wright will be leaned on heavily, especially considering his ball handling is unparalleled, having never recorded a fumble in his three seasons in Florida.
Downfield, Utah’s secondary will be tasked with covering junior Justin Shorter (6’4”, 223 lbs) and sophomore Xzavier Henderson (6’3”, 195 lbs) who return from last season after putting up a combined 827 receiving yards and five touchdowns. Both pass catchers averaged over 10 yards per reception, which should help showcase how much improved Utah’s secondary is when fully healthy.
Utah’s incoming defense is on the younger side without doubt, but knowing the history of top-notch defensive depth and talent that cycles into Sack Lake City, that young-ish defense will have ample opportunity against what looks to be a stacked Florida offense to prove their worth on a grand stage as the season officially kicks off Saturday evening.