Florida coach Dan Mullen, unsurprisingly, has not announced whether the Gators will start incumbent quarterback Emory Jones or dynamic redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson against No. 1 Georgia.
His decision makes sense. Unless he feels the Gators need an undisputed starting quarterback for leadership purposes, there’s no advantage to giving Georgia any hint about his game plan.
History, however, gives us two clues about what to expect Saturday in Jacksonville and beyond.
The first: Having a full-time starting quarterback doesn’t really matter to Mullen.
“I don’t get caught up in all that stuff,” he said. “... A good question everybody should do is who finishes the game.”
That ended up being the most important thing for his 2013 Mississippi State team, when he had a talented, veteran quarterback (Tyler Russell) and a rising star with less experience but more upside (Dak Prescott).
The intrigue peaked leading into a home game against No. 10 LSU. Mullen said during the week that Russell would start. But, according to The Clarion-Ledger, when the Bulldogs introduced their starters on the video board, they listed 11 offensive players … but no quarterback. About 15 minutes before kickoff, they announced Prescott as the starter.
Prescott played the entire first quarter, one drive of the second, all of the third and part of the fourth. But Russell finished it (and broke the school’s career touchdown record in the 59-26 loss).
Mullen’s postgame comments sound familiar.
“We’ll just look how it goes in practice,” Mullen told The Clarion-Ledger. “I think it’s always good to be able to have two quarterbacks that are always in the flow of the game and ready to go make plays.”
Russell started the next week for Mississippi State against Bowling Green, but Prescott finished out the 21-20 win. Prescott, when available, became the Bulldogs’ starter the rest of the way.
Mullen took a similar approach at LSU two weeks ago. Though Jones started, Mullen replaced him with Richardson in the second half of a 49-42 failed comeback. Who took the first snap was not as important as who took the last one.
“That’s always a key,” Mullen said, “... is how many games you finish, not just how many you start.”
So who will finish Saturday? The answer depends on how the game unfolds and how Richardson and Jones fare against a historically strong defense.
The second clue about what to expect at TIAA Bank Field is that things might not look the same as what we saw through the first seven games. Jones knows that well.
The speculation before the 2018 Florida-Georgia game centered on whether the Bulldogs would use the open date to replace Jake Fromm with Justin Fields. They didn’t. Instead, Mullen took the extra time to install a specialty package for his freshman quarterback, Jones.
“I guess the talk all week was, you know, one of the freshman quarterbacks was going to be in the game a lot,” Mullen said afterward. “That was true. It was just ours.”
Jones didn’t play much; he rushed four times for 12 yards and threw a great deep ball that drew a defensive pass-interference penalty.
But his change-of-pace presence was the kind of unexpected wrinkle Mullen could bring out Saturday.
“We’re coming off a bye week right here,” Mullen said. “We could come out in the wishbone.”
While that’s unlikely — we think — Mullen’s past does give us two things to watch as the Richardson/Jones dynamic plays out Saturday and beyond: Look for something new this week, and pay more attention to the final snap than the first one.
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