GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — If this was Anthony Richardson’s final game in The Swamp, he led a performance to remember.
Richardson accounted for three touchdowns, Montrell Johnson Jr. ran for a career-high 161 yards and a score and Florida steamrolled South Carolina 38-6 on Saturday.
The Gators (6-4, 3-4 Southeastern Conference) avenged an ugly loss to the Gamecocks last season, won consecutive league games for the first time in nearly two years and became bowl eligible in coach Billy Napier’s first season.
But Richardson’s future remains a trendy topic. The third-year sophomore has played his best over the past month and could turn pro or give Florida a huge jump-start heading into 2023.
“I haven’t really thought about it,” Richardson said. “After the Georgia loss, we’re just trying to get the team rolling again and get back on track. I haven’t really thought about that. I’m just trying to win every game and go win the bowl game.”
The Gators dominated the Gamecocks from the start, scoring on their first four drives and leading 24-0 before South Carolina (6-4, 3-4) crossed midfield. Richardson opened the drubbing with a 3-yard run and doubled the lead with a 15-yard strike to Ricky Pearsall. Freshman Trevor Etienne had the play of the game: an 85-yard TD run that made it 21-0 late in the first quarter.
South Carolina’s third quarter was somehow worse than its first. Coach Shane Beamer’s team fumbled three times in its first four snaps out of the locker room, gift-wrapping three short fields for Florida.
“I’ve never seen that,” Beamer said. “That’s just completely unacceptable.”
Florida’s defense played its best game of the season, with the highlight coming when 415-pound defensive tackle Desmond Watson ripped the ball out of Jaheim Bell’s arms and rambled 8 yards the other way.
Players chided him for getting tackled by South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler.
“How you get tackled by the quarterback?” linebacker Ventrell Miller quipped.
Added Rattler: “I tackled him, come on. That’s probably the biggest dude in college.”
Watson was so tired that he barely celebrated when he reached teammates eagerly awaiting his arrival on the sideline. Still, it took an hours-long party to another level for the Gators, who finished with a season-high 374 yards rushing.
“It’s what we do best,” Napier said.
Richardson completed 11 of 23 passes for 112 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for 96 yards and a score. Etienne finished with 100 yards on the ground.
At one point, Florida had three guys with at least 100 yards rushing — a feat last accomplished by the Gators in 1984. But Richardson lost 6 yards on a sack in the fourth before heading to the bench.
Little went right for South Carolina, which played without running back MarShawn Lloyd (thigh bruise).
South Carolina’s lone highlight was a fake punt late in the second quarter. Punter Kai Kroeger found Dakereon Joyner for a 48-yard score. Joyner was all alone on the right side of the field and had one guy to beat, receiver Xzavier Henderson.
“That gave us a spark,” Beamer said.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks won’t be high on any bowl’s wish list. They could end the regular season by losing four of five, with the lone victory coming at lowly Vanderbilt. It’s now clear everyone gave South Carolina too much credit after consecutive wins against Kentucky and Texas A&M last month.
Florida: The Gators opened and ended their home schedule with impressive wins. They beat then-No. 7 Utah 29-26 in the season opener at The Swamp and ended their home slate with a beatdown of South Carolina that was never in doubt.
South Carolina: The Gamecocks host No. 5 Tennessee next Saturday. The Volunteers have won three straight in the series.
Florida: The Gators play at Vanderbilt next Saturday. The Commodores upset Kentucky to end a 26-game skid in SEC play.
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