Photo: Anthony Richardson; Credit: Zach Goodall
Football is back.
The Florida Gators kicked off their 2021 football season on Saturday night against FAU and while it wasn’t an overly dominant outing, UF still handily took care of the Owls, 35-14.
Working through some kinks in the early stages of the season, it was expected for Florida to have growing pains in week one.
An area where the unit shined relative to expectations was defensively, holding FAU scoreless through the first three quarters before finally breaking in the fourth.
However, storylines for the offense were created in the matchup, providing a first look at how the newly constructed unit will operate.
As a result, AllGators presents its first rendition of “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly” for the 2021 season by breaking down the good, the great and the ugly from the season opener against FAU in an offensive-focused fashion.
Good: Gators Rushing Game
Surprise of the night.
The biggest concern with the Gators unit going into 2021 was the possible inefficiency along the offensive line.
Being a group that has underperformed in recent years, this season's version presented no sign that it would be improved from last — especially when losing two starters and the struggle recruiting the position.
However, the offensive line produced in a big way on opening night, temporarily turning the heads of critics. Producing the most rushing yards in a season opener in school history, the Gators running back corps — and quarterbacks — rushed for 400 yards on 46 carries.
Splitting the ball carrying duties seven ways, an offense that has dragged in the rushing game in recent years averaged an impressive 8.7 yards per rush.
Doing so behind the big men up front, the offensive line created a considerable push to open up holes.
Of the running backs to tote the rock, senior Malik Davis re-emerged after a troubling few years, accounting for over 100 yards on the ground on 7.4 yards per carry.
Performing as the clear-cut RB1 on the night, Davis looked like the player many saw when he led the group in rushing as a freshman in 2017 before injury.
In the running game's resurgence, Davis and Dameon Pierce proved to be the new version of the one-two punch backfield used in 2018 with Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine.
While Davis provided the speed in between the 20-yard lines, the bigger Pierce got the bulk of short-yardage carries.
Each player excelled in their respective role.
Meanwhile, the other backs in the roster like Nay’Quan Wright, Demarkcus Bowman and Lorenzo Lingard will be used as complements in the committee system, not to mention the production brought by each quarterback.
As a whole, the run game — as expected — was the basis of the offensive game plan and proved to be the drastically improved facet of the game it needed to be.
Great: Anthony Richardson
When Anthony Richardson said a few weeks ago that he would be ready when his name was called, he wasn’t lying.
Entering his first-ever contest in front of a packed crowd at the Swamp, the 6-foot-4, 236-pounder entered with the demeanor of a seasoned veteran.
Providing a spark for a dormant Gators offense following three straight drives that resulted in nothing, Richardson showcased an electrifying dose of athleticism and comfort operating the offense.
Exemplifying the traits many have alluded to in the past, Richardson produced the highlight reel play of the night with a hurdle over an Owls defender near the opposing sideline.
Richardson would turn what looked to be a play that would result in negative yardage into an 11-yard gain and a first down.
Accounting for 160 rushing yards on seven carries — including a 73-yard touchdown on a read-option keeper — Richardson became the first Gators quarterback to rush over 100 yards since Jeff Driskel against Vanderbilt in 2012.
Despite going just 3-for-8 passing for 40 yards in the passing category — seeing his final five passes fall to the ground — the Gainesville native was precise with his placement.
Making his mark on the game, Richardson was arguably the best player on the field on Saturday night, providing proof that he has the intangibles to be a star once his name gets called to be QB1.
Ugly: Emory Jones’ Starting Debut
It was not the starting debut Emory Jones expected when entering the Swamp last night.
Tallying 113 yards on 17-for-27 passes, Jones led the Gators offense to two scores in the first two possessions of the game — tossing one touchdown in the process.
From that point, they began to sputter.
Making the mistakes of an inexperienced quarterback, Jones was plagued by a lack of anticipation when letting balls rip down the field.
Namely, his second interception on a pass down the field intended for Rick Wells, Jones elected to hold the football despite having Wells out of his break. With the ball floating out of his hand and the ball being late, the defender was able to jump the route for an easy pick.
If he was to let the ball go sooner, Wells has an opportunity to snag the ball for a big gain.
Experiencing spells of inaccuracy and a tendency to force plays that aren’t there, Jones’ mistakes were highlighted on the stat sheet with two interceptions. While one was directly his fault, throwing an interception to a stand-alone defender on the goal line, the other was a miscue between play-caller and quarterback.
Attempting to convert on fourth and goal from the five, Jones tried to run behind his offensive lineman in a QB sneak, coming up two yards short.
Trotting off to the sidelines, Jones would be met by a confused and frustrated Mullen on the sideline, suggesting miscommunication between the two prior to the fourth down play.
Jones’ talents shined throughout the night. However, in an offense that will attempt to control the clock via the rushing game, there is little room to squander opportunities, especially in the red zone with self-inflicted wounds. A responsibility that ultimately falls back on the quarterback.
Despite the ups and downs, Mullen feels confident in Jones going forward, shutting down the outside noise for serious competition at signal-caller.
Jones will have an opportunity to learn from his mistakes in his second start against USF next Saturday in Tampa.
Stay tuned to AllGators for continuous coverage of Florida Gators football, basketball and recruiting. Follow along on social media at @SI_AllGators on Twitter and Florida Gators on Sports Illustrated on Facebook.