Photo: Emory Jones; Credit: University of Florida athletic association
On the full-fledged opening weekend of college football, the schedule is slated to be electric.
The weekend will be headlined by the top 25 matchups of Alabama versus Miami in Atlanta and Georgia versus Clemson in Charlotte, each providing a glimpse into the new look of potential contenders in 2021.
However, while some battle fellow contenders, others begin with a luxurious opportunity to work out the kinks against lesser opponents.
Florida’s week one matchup happens to be the latter, hosting the Willie Taggart-led FAU Owls in The Swamp. While the eyes of the nation will be elsewhere, the new pieces on the Gators roster will look to start the season off strong on Saturday night.
Leading all newcomers in expectations for the season, Emory Jones is slated as the AllGators X-Factor against FAU.
Is Jones the clichè for X-Factor in week one? Sure. Does that make it any less true? Absolutely not.
Stepping into the fold as the starting quarterback following three years of grooming in Dan Mullen’s system, Jones will hold immense pressure on his shoulders when he steps on the field.
However, when asserted into big-time situations in the past, the LaGrange (Ga.) native has shown little signs of his nerves taking control — or the fact that he has any at all.
Namely, in 2019 against Auburn, starter Kyle Trask went down with an apparent leg injury while the Gators were trading blows with Gus Malzhan’s Tigers.
Jones entered the game and showed promise — completing five of his seven passing attempts and totaling 41 yards — that the Gators would be able to pull out the victory with him in relief.
Doing so in an offense tailored for a different type of quarterback, Jones proved his adaptability. Now, Jones is the one the offense suits.
Mullen is known to adhere to the strengths of his quarterbacks to put them in a position to succeed, something Jones acknowledged on Monday.
In doing so, Florida will shift back to a more balanced attack of rush and pass this season. Given Jones’ dual-threat abilities, he’s the catalyst for that transition to be smooth and successful.
Providing a cool, calm and collected performance against a less talented FAU squad would provide Jones and the rest of the Gators squad crucial confidence for the rest of the season.
Facing a stout FAU defense that ranked 24th nationally and accounted for 25 sacks in 2020 that's now led by Mike Stoops, the mistakes inexperienced quarterbacks make — like holding onto the ball too long and trying to make plays when it isn’t there — could be forced by the unit.
However, while Jones’ growing pains are not likely to affect the outcome of the game, they could hinder UF’s plans to start the year off with a bang if the offense can’t find a rhythm.
For the Gators to win in the fashion they’re expected to, Jones will be called to utilize his playmaking ability while simultaneously making consistently smart decisions to limit the self-inflicted wounds.
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