After coach Billy Napier lost his top two quarterbacks five days apart for very different reasons, the Florida Gators will count on Jack Miller to start against No. 17 Oregon State in the Dec. 17 Las Vegas Bowl.
“Obviously the volume of work will be a little bit different for him,” Napier said Thursday. “That’ll be the biggest challenge.”
Miller’s opportunity comes after two high-profile departures, starting with backup Jalen Kitna being arrested on Nov. 30 on five felony complaints related to child pornography.
In his first public remarks since the incident, Napier called it a “sad, tragic event for all the people involved.” Kitna appeared in four games this season, including the Nov. 25 regular-season finale at Florida State. Though Gainesville Police Department documents show its investigation into Kitna began months earlier, Napier said the Gators didn’t find out about it until the morning of Kitna’s arrest, “literally as it was happening.”
On Monday, starter Anthony Richardson announced he was leaving early for the 2023 NFL draft.
Richardson’s decision wasn’t a surprise; he has the physical tools to be an NFL star, which is why ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper ranks him as his No. 19 overall prospect. But he struggled at times, completing only 53.8% of his passes and ranking outside the top 70 nationally in passing efficiency (130.96). Napier said Richardson had a “gray-area decision” between staying or going but that Richardson improved with his comfort as a first-time starter and football intelligence.
“He increased his value to a point where the feedback was really positive about where he was projected…” Napier said. “He’s going to work extremely hard to solidify his position in the draft and did a lot for the Gators. Certainly proud of him as a person and the way he went about his business and how he represented this place.”
The quarterback now representing “this place” is Miller. The former blue-chip recruit has appeared in six career college games — all at Ohio State, before he transferred to Florida in the spring. The Arizona native completed seven of his 14 passes with the Buckeyes for 101 yards and rushed seven times for 22 yards and a touchdown.
He spent most of the spring and summer as UF’s top backup before he injured his thumb in August. Miller was cleared to participate fully in practice about a month ago. The Gators’ next options are walk-on Kyle Engel and three-star true freshman Max Brown.
Though every team is undergoing major roster changes after the NCAA transfer portal window opened Monday, the Gators are at an extreme. Since October, they have lost (or are set to lose) 25 players who have entered the portal, declared for the draft or left for other reasons, according to 247Sports. That could leave UF with as few as 58 scholarship players, by that estimate.
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Napier did not sound worried and said some players in the portal will remain through the bowl game.
“The good thing is, the majority of the players that we have that have entered the portal, I think, we’ve all been on the same page,” Napier said. “It’s not like they’re disgruntled. I think they’re just looking for an opportunity where they can contribute and compete. I’ve got a lot of respect for that.”
· Defensive lineman Gervon Dexter will play in the bowl, despite declaring for the draft. Linebacker Ventrell Miller and offensive lineman O’Cyrus Torrence will not.
· A receiving corps decimated by injuries against FSU is getting healthier. Xzavier Henderson, Ja’Quavion Fraziars and Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman all practiced Thursday. Marcus Burke was limited but expected to be ready for the game.
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