TAMPA — Though the play itself was irrelevant Saturday in No. 13 Florida’s 42-20 blowout win over USF, the image might not be.
There was Emory Jones, lying on the ground at Raymond James Stadium. He had just thrown his second interception in as many drives on a day his backup, redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson, dazzled (again). Jones looked to the sidelines and shook his head in apparent disbelief.
And when he picked himself up and trotted to the sideline, UF’s quarterback situation grew even more interesting and perhaps uncertain heading into next week’s SEC opener against No. 1 Alabama.
Officially, there is no change. Coach Dan Mullen said Jones remains UF’s starter.
“As I said, we have two really good quarterbacks,” Mullen said. “You’ll see them both.”
But if Saturday was any indication, we can expect to see more of Richardson going forward.
Jones played well in spurts against a Bulls team (0-2) that’s still a year or two away from respectability. His 35-yard touchdown pass to Xzavier Henderson in the second quarter was arguably his best throw in his three-plus seasons with the Gators (2-0). He had a nice check-down pass to Dameon Pierce — the kind of unspectacular but smart play Mullen loves — on another drive that ended with Jones rushing for a 33-yard score.
But Jones was not as impressive as Richardson. Again.
Richardson entered on the third series — just as he did against Florida Atlantic — and was just as dazzling as he was in Week 1. On his first play, he rolled right and fired a 75-yard touchdown pass over the middle to Jacob Copeland.
Richardson re-entered in the second quarter and had another impressive drive. He should have been sacked on one play, avoided pressure and scrambled for 18 yards. Three plays later, he showed trickery by pretending to run, dropping back and hitting Copeland for a 41-yard score.
Midway through the second quarter, Jones had a fantastic 335.8 passer rating. Richardson’s, though, was unheard of: 917.2.
“He can do everything,” UF linebacker Jeremiah Moon said.
Jones hurt his case in the second half with a pair of interceptions. The first happened when Armwood High alumnus Mekhi LaPointe jumped in front of a pass and nearly returned it for a score. The second happened on the next series. Jones had plenty of time to throw but didn’t see Brock Nichols drifting down to steal the ball.
Mullen gave Jones a chance to respond on the next drive. It ended with a fourth-down incompletion.
Richardson took the first snap of the fourth quarter and launched a gorgeous 36-yard pass to Copeland to get UF inside the 10. Jones reentered for four fruitless plays: Jones’ short rush, an incompletion into quadruple coverage, a pass that brought UF to the 1 and, finally, a drive-ending incompletion in the end zone.
Richardson didn’t give Mullen a chance to replace him on the next drive; he took the only play 80 yards for a touchdown. He came up hobbling with a tightened hamstring, but Mullen did not seem concerned about his availability for next week.
Richardson has appeared in eight series this season. Five of them ended in touchdowns. Of the three scoreless drives, two ended with Jones faltering in the red zone. The other one ended with the final buzzer against Florida Atlantic.
Richardson finished 3-of-3 passing for 152 yards and two scores while rushing four times for 115 yards and a touchdown. According to ESPN, that made him the first UF quarterback with 100 rushing yards and 100 passing yards since Tim Tebow in 2009.
Jones went 14 of 22 for 151 yards (one touchdown, two interceptions) and added 81 rushing yards on 13 carries.
Before Saturday, Mullen had been steadfast in his support of Jones, a redshirt junior who waited his turn behind Feleipe Franks and Bucs rookie Kyle Trask. Mullen liked how Jones commands the offense and had familiarity with the system.
But with the reigning national champion coming to Gainesville next week, Mullen will have to rethink his decision. ‘Bama is, as usual, dominant. If the Gators are going to have a chance at pulling off their biggest regular-season victory in years, they’re probably not going to do it with extended drives. They’ll do it with explosive plays.
Like what Richardson has delivered repeatedly through two unforgettable performances.
Zachary Carter’s homecoming
UF defensive lineman Zachary Carter continued his excellent start to the season with a memorable trip home. The Hillsborough High alumnus followed up a three-sack game against Florida Atlantic with 2 ½ tackles for a loss Saturday.
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