Following the Florida Gators' season-opening 35-14 win over Florida Atlantic, much of the discourse has surrounded the quarterback situation.
Quarterbacks are always in the news when Dan Mullen and Florida are involved, but what some are calling a quarterback controversy has unexpectedly sparked in Gainesville this week.
After Gator fans watched redshirt junior Emory Jones struggle to move the ball through the air, and redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson electrify The Swamp with a 73-yard touchdown run, they seem to have taken up an affection for Richardson.
Richardson, a Gainesville native wearing Tim Tebow’s famous No. 15, captured the hearts of fans with a slick hurdle over an FAU defender late in the fourth quarter. Head coach Dan Mullen understands why the fans are infatuated with Richardson, because he saw the same thing up close and personal when Tebow was a freshman.
“I was here in '06 and there was enthusiasm, huge enthusiasm for Tim Tebow and he played about six, seven plays a game,” Mullen recalled on Monday. “But those six, seven plays are a lot of enthusiasm. So yeah, I've seen it before and understand it."
When you take out the touchdown from Richardson’s rushing line, he was still really impressive on the ground - rushing for 87 yards on six carries (14.5 YPC).
Through the air, it was more of a mixed bag. On Richardson’s first drive of the fourth quarter, he went 3-3 for 40 yards on a drive that resulted in a score. However, he struggled after that, failing to complete a pass on five attempts across the rest of the game. Mullen described what he saw.
“You go watch the film, he made spectacular [plays] but missed some very, very simple checks within the game plan,” Mullen said. “It’s just that comfort, and then that comfort of being able to execute it within a game, so obviously you can make that time work however you need to make it work sometimes. But it’s the best when you can let guys learn it the right way and build a really solid foundation.”
Jones looked sharp early on Saturday night, putting together back-to-back touchdown drives to start the game, but struggled following his first interception on the Gators' third drive.
Mullen said the plan all along was for Richardson to handle that third drive, but his helmet came off and Jones was forced to take the snap on third down. He proceeded to throw a pick and his night flipped on its head.
Jones finished the night 17/27 for 113 yards (4.2 yards per attempt) with a touchdown and two interceptions. He admitted that Saturday night taught himself how difficult it is to be a starter.
"I could have done a lot of things differently,” Jones acknowledged. “Threw better balls and made better decisions, but all I can do is learn from it."
Mullen shared that, after evaluating the tape of the game, the two quarterbacks' performances were not far off from each other.
“If you go, like, how we do our grades,” Mullen explained, “Anthony probably graded a little higher because he had explosive plays, and you get extra points for having the big, explosive plays. But if I went pure without giving the bonus points in, probably very similar.”
The Gators face USF this Saturday and Mullen said he could envision Jones and Richardson playing off each other when he was asked that specific question. That being said, Mullen explicitly called Jones UF's starter after Saturday night's win.
However, if Jones struggles again on Saturday, the calls for Richardson will only get louder. Jones will need to bounce back big time in Tampa if he is going to silence any calls for a change.
Mullen was the innovator behind the Tebow and Chris Leak duo that won a National Championship in 2006, so if anybody can make Jones and Richardson work in harmony, it should be him.
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