GAINESVILLE — There is no Florida Gators quarterback controversy between Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson.
That did not, however, stop Richardson’s nickname — AR-15 — from trending on Twitter during the No. 13 Gators’ 35-14 win over Florida Atlantic.
The redshirt freshman earned that buzz with an electric performance. His 160 rushing yards were the most by a UF quarterback since Jeff Driskel ran for 177 at Vanderbilt in 2012. He also displayed great arm strength and poise (a 36-yard completion on fourth and 4).
“I think he’s going to be a great player for us…” Mullen said.
Key words: Going to be. As in, Richardson might not be there quite yet.
Richardson made some highlight-reel plays, including a 73-yard touchdown run. On one garbage-time rush, he made one defender miss, juked another, broke a tackle, then hurdled a defender. It looked like something from Lamar Jackson, the Ravens star who almost signed with the Gators out of high school but instead won the 2016 Heisman Trophy at Louisville.
That type of athleticism can’t be taught. But a lot of other things about the quarterback position can be, which is why Mullen isn’t ready to bench Jones for Richardson after one game.
Saturday night was Jones’ first start but his 25th game. The experience helped Jones quickly digest his mistakes. It also give him an edge with what Mullen called “his decision making and getting us through every part of the game.”
Like second and goal from the 2 in the first quarter. When Jones saw Florida Atlantic’s defense running around, he changed the call from one play to another. When the Owls got set, Jones saw that the original play made more sense, so he switched back. He ran left and pitched it to Dameon Pierce for a touchdown.
When Mullen said quarterbacks have “got to run the whole offense,” that’s what he means. It’s similar to what Mullen used to say about his first UF starter, Feleipe Franks; Franks could make spectacular plays but needed to learn how to make the unspectacular ones — the check downs and pitches that might not win games but can keep you from losing them.
In those routine plays, Jones is farther ahead than Richardson. Aside from his big fourth-down throw, Richardson’s other two completions gained 2 yards apiece. His final five passes fell incomplete.
“Anthony’s really growing with that and growing with situations,” Mullen said.
Mullen chooses those situations carefully, the same way he did when Jones was the change-of-pace option behind Franks and Kyle Trask. UF decided before the game to use Richardson for the third series. He drove them into the red zone before getting pulled for Jones (who threw an interception).
After that, Richardson took the final 10 minutes of a lopsided game against an overmatched opponent. He maximized that opportunity thanks to his abilities, the tired defense or both.
Richardson, unofficially, helped UF gain 219 yards on his 23 snaps (9.5 per play). Even if you subtract Richardson’s breakaway, the Gators still had more yards per play with him (6.6) than with Jones (5.8).
Both players said the right things afterward. Jones wasn’t satisfied with anything (besides the win) but was happy for Richardson.
Richardson wasn’t made available to reporters but retweeted a story about Jones remaining the starter. “(Stay) tuned and watch my guy work!” Richardson said.
Mullen sidestepped a question about a quarterback controversy, saying both are “not controversial guys.”
“The nice thing is, I’m pretty confident with both the quarterbacks,” Mullen said.
But after one week, he’s still more confident with one than the other.
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