After a month-long hiatus, the Gators’ quarterback controversy is back following UF’s 49-42 loss to LSU on Saturday.
Starter Emory Jones played most of the snaps in the first half and the opening drive of the second half. He finished the game 12-for-19 for 161 yards and a touchdown. He threw two interceptions, including one that was returned for a touchdown to eventually provide LSU with the winning points.
Backup Anthony Richardson entered for two series in the first half, which was the plan entering the game. He ran it once and threw an ugly interception to Jay Ward while getting blasted.
After Jones threw his pick-six to Dwight McGlothern to start the second half, coach Dan Mullen inserted Richardson back into the game.
The only time he left the game afterward was for three plays after suffering a cut on his left hand in the fourth quarter.
Richardson finished the game 10-for-19 for 167 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. He also added 37 yards and a touchdown with his feet.
“In practice, we prepare for almost everything that they are going to present to us,” Richardson said. “They tried to switch it up a little bit, but Coach [Dan] Mullen and Coach [Garrick] McGee were both watching, and they know what to call. We just tried our best to execute and just play ball.”
Jones’ seven possessions resulted in 13 points, 199 yards (counting penalty yardage) and two turnovers. Richardson’s seven possessions resulted in 29 points, 304 yards and two turnovers.
For the first time this season, Mullen didn’t shoot down the possibility of Richardson becoming his new starter in his postgame press conference.
“We’re going to look at that, obviously, going into a bye week,” Mullen said. “We’re going to evaluate a lot of things. I thought you saw some good things from both quarterbacks today, saw some mistakes from both quarterbacks today. So, we’ll evaluate that, of how that’s going to play out moving forward.
“I can jump up and down on the table on some really good things they did and jump up and down on the table on some terrible mistakes that they both, that we made, so we’ll evaluate that part of it.”
Richardson said that he’s not going to worry about whether he’s going to start against Georgia or not. He’s just going to focus on being ready when his number is called, whenever that might be.
“That’s not my time or opinion to speak on,” he said. “I just was out there playing. Coach Mullen put me out there. He trusted me enough to play. That’s what I was trying to do.”
Later on, though, Richardson was asked about the speculation that he might enter the transfer portal if he doesn’t become the starter by the end of the season. His answer isn’t very reassuring for Gators fans.
“I can’t really speak on that,” he said. “Time is the only thing that can tell, but, right now, I’m a Gator. So, that’s the only thing that matters.”
Richardson rallied the Gators from 15 points down and 14 points down in the second half to tie the game at 35-35 and 42-42. The Gators scored touchdowns on four consecutive drives – each of which took at least 65 yards – at one point under Richardson’s command.
While their final statistics look fairly similar, Richardson badly outplayed Jones. While Jones once again struggled to make quick decisions and throw to the right receivers, Richardson displayed terrific anticipation and a willingness to take some shots down the field.
Richardson also made a couple of throws that probably won’t even be matched by NFL quarterbacks on Sunday. His 11-yard touchdown pass to Dameon Pierce and his 33-yard scoring strike to Jacob Copeland were thrown with perfect timing and accuracy and in a way where only his receiver could come down with the ball.
“I thought he did a really good job,” Mullen said. “He was in there, he got hot, and, so, we kind of stuck with him because he was kind of hot, and I think we had some momentum offensively.”
His biggest weakness at this stage in his career is decision-making when under pressure. Both of his interceptions came when he had defenders bearing down on him. He needs to learn how to either throw the ball away or take the sack.
His interception into double coverage with 1:59 to go put the nail in the Gators’ coffin. Richardson understands that he needs to play smarter at times.
“In that time, that place, you’re supposed to make a play, play ball, and everybody’s trusting me to go out there and win the game, but I didn’t fulfill that,” he said. “So, of course, that interception is going to humble you, but [we’ve] just got to keep fighting.
“Sometimes, I still think it’s just high school; I can still make this play. But, obviously, we see that’s not the case. But, managing the game, I think that’s still a major thing I can work on. Also, keeping my emotions in check. I’m a very emotional guy. I’m very competitive. I love to win. When things don’t go my way, I get down on myself. I’m too hard on myself. I feel like I can further work on that.”
Jones also enjoyed a nice moment after Richardson left the game with the cut on his hand early in the fourth quarter that could give Mullen justification for retaining him as the starter. After having not thrown a pass in probably close to an hour at that point, Jones entered the game on third-and-13 and completed an 18-yard pass to Justin Shorter to move the chains and keep the comeback bid alive.
“He goes down, and you just see the maturity of Emory,” Mullen said. “I don’t think anybody can understand how big of a play that was that Emory made for a quarterback. In that situation, to come up and make that play that he made, that was probably the play of the game for us offensively. The ability to come in and do that I thought was pretty special.”
Mullen is pleased with the spark that Richardson brought to his dormant offense, and he very well might start Richardson against Georgia in two weeks.
But he doesn’t like the way that some people are acting like he’s a sure-fire future Heisman Trophy winner and a Pro Football Hall of Famer. He’d prefer for fans and media alike to temper their expectations because he’s still far from being a finished product.
“I love everybody labeling people,” Mullen said. “He’s a young quarterback that’s learning and developing. That’s a good label for him.
“I think it’s good building for Anthony. Anthony had some confidence early [this season], kind of got a little taste of reality, had to build some calluses there over the last couple weeks. I think this will continue to build his confidence going forward.”
That’s about the only positive to take away from the LSU game.