GAINESVILLE — Florida quarterback Emory Jones spent the past three years as one of the most popular people on any college campus: the backup quarterback.
After his first start Saturday night in his new role (starter), Jones is finding out what it’s like to be on the other end.
Jones led the No. 13 Gators to a 35-14 season-opening win over Florida Atlantic, but his up-and-down night was overshadowed by Anthony Richardson’s coming-out party and the best rushing performance by a Gators quarterback in nine years.
It was not, however, enough for Richardson to supplant Jones atop the depth chart. Yet.
“Obviously Emory’s our starter,” coach Dan Mullen said.
That’s at least in part because of how impressive Jones looked early, when he led UF (1-0) into the end zone on its first two drives. On the first touchdown, he called the play at the line — a pitch left to Dameon Pierce — based on how the defense went from one look to another and back to the first.
“It worked,” Jones said.
The second score was his 9-yard touchdown pass to Rick Wells.
Jones had his share of other highlights. He rushed for 74 yards and helped open running lanes that didn’t exist last year for UF’s talented backs. The Gators ran for more in the first half (188) than they did in all but three games last season and finished with 400 yards — their most since rushing for 418 against Georgia in 2014.
Jesuit High alumnus Malik Davis needed only 11 carries to hit 100 yards, becoming UF’s first 100-yard rusher since Lamical Perine in the 2019 Orange Bowl against Virginia.
But those highlights were only half of the Emory Jones experience. The other half was costly and confounding — and maybe enough to create a quarterback controversy.
Jones forced a pass to Kemore Gamble that Diashun Moss intercepted in the end zone. On the next drive, Jones had a miscommunication with the signal from the sidelines and ran a quarterback sneak on fourth and goal from the 4. Mullen seemed bewildered afterward and held up four fingers to Jones. It looked like Tom Brady losing track of the down at the end of last season’s loss to the Bears.
Jones threw another interception, too, with a pass that was either too late or too short at the end of the third quarter. Either way, it gave him a multi-interception game — something Trask only did four times — that stained a 17-of-27, 113-yard night.
And he wasn’t as dazzling as Richardson. UF had 13 carries of at least 10 yards; five of them were from Richardson. One was a 73-yard breakaway touchdown in the fourth quarter. Another was an 11-yarder in which he broke one tackle, cut right and ended with a Lamar Jackson-like hurdle.
“He’s a special guy with the ball in his hand,” Mullen said.
But Richardson had his miscues, too. After completing a 36-yard pass on fourth and 4, Richardson missed on his final six passes to finish 3-of-8 for 40 yards.
That inconsistency is the other reason why there isn’t a quarterback controversy at UF after Week 1. Jones’ ups and downs were expected; Mullen said they’re a trade-off for the explosive plays he creates.
“Everyone on the team believes in him,” Davis said.
UF clearly believes in Richardson, too, which is why Mullen talked him up during preseason camp and praised him Saturday night. But Richardson has only shown flashes of success, most recently in a lopsided game against an overmatched opponent.
“Anthony (came) in and did some nice things,” Mullen said. “But, I mean, you’ve got to run the whole offense, you know?”
For now, Mullen believes Jones is the best option to do that. But if Jones doesn’t improve, starting this week at USF, it’s easy to see him getting pushed into the familiar, popular role he won’t want to reassume.
⋅ Jaguars coach Urban Meyer, who led the Gators to a pair of national titles, was in attendance for his first game at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium since his final season, 2010. Meyer received a nice ovation when he was introduced to the crowd — either because UF fans have forgiven his exit or because he was recognized alongside the legendary Steve Spurrier.
⋅ UF defensive lineman Zachary Carter (Hillsborough High) had the best performance of his career: three sacks and a forced fumble.
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