Sailing hasn't been all that smooth for Emory Jones as the Florida Gators' starting quarterback. In the first two weeks of the season, against measly Florida Atlantic and South Florida programs, Jones combined to throw for 264 yards, two touchdowns, and four interceptions.
Naturally, there was cause for concern regarding Jones' performances as the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide came to town for a ranked matchup this past Saturday. Alabama has owned a superb defense ever since Nick Saban was named head coach in 2007, and given Jones' lack of efficiency and knack for turnovers against subpar competition, the fear was Jones would look much of the same, if not worse, against the Tide in week three.
That wasn't the case at all.
Jones was far from perfect, but he displayed a lot more poise against Alabama and should be credited for leading the Gators on three second-half touchdown drives that narrowed the Tide's lead to two points. Remember, Alabama was a two-touchdown (including extra points) favorite before the game.
“For me personally it was kind of a confidence-builder, just to go out there and play with our guys," Jones told media on Monday. "I had a feeling I was out there having fun and being comfortable with the team."
Jones, certainly, looked more comfortable, nearly reaching 200 passing yards on the day with a completion percentage of 63% and rushing for another 76 yards, scoring a touchdown on the ground. He tossed another interception earlier in the game, but it was a result of being hit as he threw.
The decision Jones made on the interception play, according to head coach Dan Mullen, was the correct one.
"He made the right read, he had pressure and he was just trying to anticipate the throw on a third-down play to make the play before the sack came," Mullen said.
"I think that it was one of those where he understands, 'Hey, I'm in the flow of the game, this happened. Hey, I'm trying to make a play. I made the right read and I'm trying to get it done.' And I agreed with him completely," Mullen continued. "I said, 'Hey, that's a heck of a job and let's get on to the next play.'"
In previous games, Jones would succumb to his own nerves after committing a turnover, continuing to make poor decisions with the ball and ultimately playing a big part in Florida's offensive drives stalling. Once again, that was not the case against the nation's No. 1 team.
Instead, Jones' confidence and ability never wavered. He got onto the next play, as Mullen suggested, and led the Gators to touchdowns on four of their next seven drives - each came on the ground from various players, but Jones both passed and ran well enough to get the Gators in scoring position. UF put seven points on the board at the end of every second-half drive it had, other than a one-play drive that served as the final play of the game with four seconds remaining.
Of course, Florida did lose the game and Jones believes he could have done more to change that outcome. But when it came to the improvements Florida needed to see from Jones, he passed the test.
"I always knew I was a guy that could come back from adversity, things like that," Jones remarked. "I threw a pick early on in the game. I didn’t really get down on it. I had already thrown a couple picks in the previous games and had to come back on the field and keep playing. So, I mean, I wasn’t really worried about anything. I just tried to keep the team going and get us back in the game."
Now, Florida can only hope that Jones will build upon his confidence and improvements as SEC play continues to ramp up. As Mullen has made clear in weeks past, Jones is the Gators' starting quarterback - and he looked a lot more like it on Saturday.
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