GAINESVILLE — A fan base's most popular player after a loss is usually the backup quarterback.
Except for No. 13 Florida. Then it's third-string early enrollee Emory Jones.
As starter Feleipe Franks struggled with two costly turnovers in last week's 36-17 loss to Georgia, Jones got his first meaningful snaps. His performance was what you'd expect from a true freshman playing in a rivalry game against a top-10 team.
There was some good; his three positive rushes all gained at least 5 yards. There was some bad; he nearly lost a fumble on an option. And there was some mediocre; his only pass was a well-thrown deep ball that was incomplete but drew a pass interference penalty.
Get used to seeing more of Jones, maybe even Saturday against Missouri, but probably only in small packages like the five plays he quarterbacked last week.
"We'll do that for at least two more games this year," coach Dan Mullen said Monday.
Key words: At least two more games.
Thanks to a new NCAA rule, a player can appear in four games and still preserve his redshirt. Jones has played in two (a pair of garbage-time series against Charleston Southern and last week). Without that rule, Mullen said Jones wouldn't have appeared at all. But with it, Mullen and Jones have two more games to play with before losing a year of eligibility.
"I think the new rule helps in a lot of ways where a guy like Emory could go in and maybe get experience that way," Mullen said. "I think it's a benefit of that rule."
It's only a benefit because Jones has progressed enough with his knowledge of the system and game planning to be ready to contribute, even if it's only in a change-of-pace package. He's also remained patient, despite the blue-chip hype that surrounded his signing-day flip from Ohio State in December.
"I think that's one of the things I admire about him the most, especially being a five-star quarterback," receiver Josh Hammond said. "You expect to come in and play and want to be in that role, but sometimes you're just not ready yet."
And Jones still isn't ready yet.
Despite Franks' shaky performance against Georgia, Franks remains firmly entrenched as the starter. Mullen affirmed Monday what he said in Week 3 — that Franks doesn't have a short leash. The Gators' shot at a 10- win season and a New Year's Six bowl rest on his right arm.
Even if Mullen wanted to make a change or Franks got hurt, Jones might not be the next quarterback up. Kyle Trask remains No. 2 on the depth chart and gets most of the second-team reps during practice.
But Jones' talent is enough to get him some looks in the final month of the season as UF tries to win out and prepare for the future.
But the Bulldogs had a significant edge at quarterback. Jake Fromm passed for three touchdowns with no picks; Franks threw one of each. In six career games against teams that are currently ranked or finished in the top 25 last year, Franks has completed only 53 percent of his passes for four touchdowns and five interceptions.
Until those numbers change, UF won't be challenging for championships. That could leave the door open for a improve quarterback battle between Franks and Jones, a Mullen recruit with the running ability Mullen covets.
"We've seen it with flashes with him…" Mullen said of Jones. "I think he's right on schedule."
Contact Matt Baker at [email protected] Follow @MBakerTBTimes.