Five on the Spot: Ground game needs to come through in Knoxville

Sep 23, 2022 | 1 comment

(Photo courtesy Florida Sports Information)

Here are five Florida Gators football players who are in the spotlight, and on the spot, to perform this week against Tennessee.

Anthony Richardson

No matter what side of the “Richardson for Heisman” camp you found yourself on after Florida upset Utah, nobody could’ve seen zero touchdown passes through three games.

Heading into last weekend, Auburn’s T.J. Finley was the last man standing between Richardson and reaching the bottom rung of the SEC quarterback rankings.

After 10 completions for 112 yards, two interceptions, and zero touchdowns, Richardson has finally hit rock bottom in the rankings as well as with many in the fanbase.

To make matters worse, Richardson’s poor passing stands unsupported by his limited running — a deliberate move to protect Florida’s limited options at the position Billy Napier admitted. “I think our situation at quarterback has something to do with that if that makes sense, but I also believe the guy’s made some plays with his legs.”

While it’s natural for Richardson to be on the spot every game, the spotlight will only diminish as expectations for Richardson dwindle with every interception, loss, and limp back to the sideline.

The first away game of the season should give Richardson an opportunity to work free from the pressure of the Swamp.

Tennessee represents a rivalry game that either revitalizes Florida’s season or wakes the program up from the Richardson dream – or nightmare – that should’ve ended after Kentucky.

Montrell Johnson

Heading into the season, based on Napier’s Louisana teams, many believed that Florida may be too run-heavy, eschewing the pass for the ground game. Now, here we are three games into the season and fans are basically begging for the run, especially after the infamous goal-line fade to Justin Shorter read against USF.

Luckily for the Gators, a Napier two-punch combo of Montrell Johnson and Trevor Etienne has given Florida a top-five rushing ranking in the SEC.

Six carries for 103 yards including a 62-yard touchdown against USF should set up Johnson for a night with more carries and the responsibility of leading the offense at Tennessee.

Shemar James

Last week was nothing short of disappointing for a Shemar James and Scooby Williams tandem trying to replace who Gervon Dexter described as the “quarterback on defense” in Ventrell Miller.

Run after run seemed to gash UF up the gut as USF ran the ball at will against the Gators.

With 286 yards on 46 attempts, the Bulls actually out-rushed the Gators.

With Miller listed as a gameday decision, it could come down to Florida counting on James to make a giant leap against Tennessee just a week after his missteps against USF.

O’Cyrus Torrence

Saturday will provide a big test for a makeshift Gators offensive line attempting to make up for the absence of right tackle Michael Tarquin.

Volunteers defensive end Tyler Baron, edge Byron Young, and lineman Omari Thomas will test Florida’s offensive line in pass protection, but over the last 15 years, this game has come down to who is able to rush the ball better. If Florida is to win that statistical matchup, it’ll be up to Torrence to show why he is hailed as one of the best offensive linemen in the country.

Jalen Kimber

Kimber offers a bit of a tough case.

He was the villain against Kentucky after giving up the long touchdown. But he was the hero against South Florida after the pick six meant the difference in a Gators win.

Thus, it’s hard to bet on the guy with the cast to make plays with his hands.

But if Kimber and Jason Marshall Jr. are to be put to the test this season, Hendon Hooker is the instructor administering it.

Hooker comes into the game responsible for Tennessee’s second-place ranking of 371.33 passing yards per game in the SEC.

Hooker also has the third-highest quarterback rating in the conference with zero interceptions thus far.

The Vols will look to bombard the Gators behind Hooker’s arm and on paper, Kimber looks to be the most vulnerable of Florida’s cornerbacks.

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