GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Steve Spurrier surely would have changed quarterbacks by now. Maybe even a few times.
No. 20 Florida has failed to throw a touchdown through three games, a head-scratching drought for an offense once nicknamed the Fun ‘n’ Gun and the kind of early-season passing ineptitude not witnessed from the Southeastern Conference program in more than four decades.
Quarterback Anthony Richardson, who was instrumental in upsetting then-No. 7 Utah in the opener, has struggled mightily the last two weeks.
The third-year sophomore threw two interceptions against Kentucky that led to 14 points and a 26-16 loss. He had two more against South Florida on Saturday night, turnovers that nearly prevented the Gators from eking out a 31-28 victory in the Swamp.
Richardson can probably hear the Heisman Trophy hype train leaving Gainesville.
“At first it was definitely getting to me because you’re like, ‘Bro, you’re a quarterback. How come you don’t have any passing touchdowns? You have four interceptions,’” Richardson said. “I mean, I’m throwing the ball but just not getting in the end zone.
“So it was affecting me a little bit, but now I’m just like, ‘OK it’s football. It’s going to come.’ I’ve got to let it come to me. I can’t try to force it. I’ve got to let the game be the game.”
And the Gators need to let Richardson be Richardson.
The 6-foot-4, 232-pound Gainesville native ran 11 times for 106 yards and three touchdowns against Utah, finding the kind of ground gains that make passing easier. He completed 17 of 24 passes for 168 yards and added a memorable 2-point conversion early in the fourth quarter.
He hasn’t looked the same since, and the Gators admittedly have held him back as a precaution because backup quarterback and Ohio State transfer Jack Miller is still recovering from thumb surgery.
Richardson ran six times for 4 yards against the Wildcats and had four carries for 24 yards against the Bulls, with most of those coming on a 16-yard scamper. He completed 45% of his passes in those games.
“It’s an area of our team where we need to improve, there’s no question about that,” first-year Gators coach Billy Napier said. “You can tell that. The average fan can tell that. My wife can. She’s informed me of that. So we need to get better.”
Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC) probably needs it to happen soon with a trip to No. 11 Tennessee (3-0, 0-0) on tap this weekend.
The Gators have won 16 of the last 17 in the series, including five straight. But the Volunteers, led by quarterback Hendon Hooker, are 10 1/2-point favorites according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
Florida is a couple of plays away from being undefeated ... or winless. The Gators have issues on both sides of the ball – they lack offensive playmakers and can’t seem to stop the run – but no one expected zero passing TDs through 12 quarters and 176 plays that included eight trips to the red zone.
Florida is one of three teams in the Football Bowl Subdivision (along with Hawaii and South Florida) without a passing touchdown.
It’s the first time the Gators have gone three games to begin a season without a TD pass since at least the 1970s, though Florida doesn’t have game-by-game statistics going that far back. But even in the team’s worst season, an 0-10-1 campaign in 1979, Cris Collinsworth had a TD reception in the third game, at Mississippi State.
Spurrier, known for shuffling quarterbacks during his Hall of Fame coaching tenure, rarely went three drives, let alone three games, without a passing touchdown at Florida. But three-game lulls have happened in Gainesville: The 1988 run-heavy Gators didn’t have a TD pass over their final nine games; and 2013 Florida went three games without one after losing quarterback Jeff Driskel to a broken ankle in September.
“If we don’t get it now, eventually it’s going to come,” Florida guard O’Cyrus Torrence said. “We’re just not playing our best offensively wise as a team. Once we fix those things, everybody’s success is going to come.”
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