The Week That Was: Five thoughts on the USF game

The No. 13 Gators defeated South Florida 42-20 on Saturday in their final tune-up game before entering the SEC gauntlet.

Before we look ahead to the clash with No. 1 Alabama in the Swamp on Saturday, here are my five biggest thoughts on the week that was.

1. Anthony Richardson should be the starting quarterback if he’s healthy.

All the guy does is create magic with the ball in his hands. He’s the team’s leading rusher through two games, and he accounted for more than 40 percent of UF’s total yards against USF on just seven plays.

He threw touchdown passes of 75 and 41 yards and ran for an 80-yard score. He can do things that very few other players in the country can do, such as running through two defenders on his long touchdown run and throwing a seed to Jacob Copeland 36 yards down the field while on the run.

He gives this offense a much higher ceiling than Jones, who continued to look more like a freshman than a fourth-year junior against the Bulls. If he hasn’t learned to not throw to a receiver surrounded by four defenders in the end zone by now, he’s probably never going to.

Sure, Richardson needs to improve as a passer, but he showed enough with his arm on Saturday to make me believe that he is unquestionably Florida’s best option.

Dan Mullen’s justification for moving forward with Jones as his starter didn’t make much sense. He said that the quarterback is required to make a bunch of decisions and implied that he’s more confident in Jones to make those decisions.

After throwing four interceptions in two games against inferior opponents, I don’t see how Jones could possibly be an upgrade over Richardson as it pertains to decision-making. Jones may have more experience doing certain things, but experience doesn’t always mean that a player is better than another.

Mullen has coached quarterbacks for a long time. He’s not dumb. I guarantee you that he’s thinking long and hard about his plans for the position moving forward.

I believe Richardson will be the starter by the end of the season. I just hope it’s not too late, and we look back and say, “What if Richardson had started a few games earlier?”

2. The middle of the field has become nonexistent in this offense.

I expected the production in the slot and at the tight end position to drop off significantly this year following the departures of Kadarius Toney and Kyle Pitts, but I didn’t see this big of a nosedive coming.

Through two games, the tight ends haven’t caught a single pass and haven’t even been targeted but one or two times.

Starting slot receiver Trent Whittemore has caught one pass for 18 yards.

I think the middle of the field becoming a nonfactor is a reflection of the quarterback play because they’ve had some receivers come open out of the slot.

Jones tends to lock onto his first or second read, which is usually an outside receiver. Mullen’s also called a bunch of quick screens to outside receivers and dump-offs to running backs.

When Richardson’s in the game, they basically let him throw two routes: screens and go-routes.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; the running backs were a nonfactor last year and the offense had success. It’s just shocking to see two entire positions essentially eliminated from the passing game.

3. Jacob Copeland had the best game of his career.

He established new career highs in receiving yards and touchdowns by halftime. He finished with five catches for 175 yards and two scores. He became the first Gator to catch two touchdown passes longer than 40 yards in a game since Andre Debose in 2011.

He ran excellent routes throughout the day and probably could’ve been targeted a couple of more times. He didn’t drop any passes, and he did a nice job of maintaining his balance while he reached out for the ball on his 75-yard touchdown from Richardson. I was nervous that he was going to drop that one.

He later secured the catch and got a foot down in traffic on his 36-yard catch from Richardson in the fourth quarter.

Copeland needs to be a consistent playmaker who helps out the quarterbacks this season. After catching just one pass against FAU, he broke out in a big way against the Bulls. Now he needs to keep it going entering SEC play.

4. The lack of impact plays up front on defense was slightly disturbing.

On USF’s opening possession, the Gators tackled quarterback Cade Fortin for a loss on second down and sacked him on third down.

They only made five more tackles-for-loss and zero sacks for the remainder of the game. That came after not making a single tackle-for-loss on a running play against FAU.

Yes, USF went up-tempo and got the ball out of their quarterbacks’ hands quickly, but you’ve got to think that SEC teams are going to do the exact same thing.

To be clear, the defensive front has played well the last two weeks, but they’re not forcing the opposition into many long-yardage situations or creating turnovers. That could hurt them against better competition.

Other than Zachary Carter and Jeremiah Moon, they’re having a difficult time getting into opponents’ backfields. That needs to improve for this defense to reach its potential.

5. The second cornerback spot is still shaky.

Avery Helm got beat four times during one drive in the first quarter and was badly out of position on a fourth-down play but got bailed out by a woefully underthrown ball.

He got beat deep multiple times, but, once again, poorly thrown balls prevented any damage.

Jason Marshall got beat several times, and a holding penalty on him wiped an interception off of the board.

Both of those guys are athletic freaks who have a lot of potential, but they’re struggling a little bit to start the season.

For whatever reason, the Gators have just been allergic to having a second great cornerback on the field. Hopefully, Helm and/or Marshall will buck that trend soon.

Ethan was born in Gainesville and has lived in the Starke, Florida, area his entire life. He played basketball for five years and knew he wanted to be a sportswriter when he was in middle school. He’s attended countless Gators athletic events since his early childhood, with baseball being his favorite sport to attend. He’s a proud 2019 graduate of the University of Florida and a 2017 graduate of Santa Fe College. He interned with the University Athletic Association’s communications department for 1 ½ years as a student and has spent the last two football seasons writing for InsideTheGators.com. He is a long-suffering fan of the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tampa Bay Rays. You can follow him on Twitter @ehughes97.

1 COMMENT

  1. Ethan…
    I agree with you on multipole points and yes, based upon Richardson’s performances, he should, technically be our starter. But Mullen is not dumb. Mullen is very smart and thinks way outside the box. My personal opinion is this: Mullen wants to give Jones enough rope to either pull himself out of the hole he’s in or… to allow him to hang himself, etc. Jones has been LOYAL and PATIENT over the years here at Florida. In fact, in following Florida Football since 1966… I don’t believe I have seen a more patient and loyal quarterback over those 55 years.
    Should Richardson be the starter… based upon the unbelievable performances that we have seen, YES! But what is obvious… is sometimes not the best OVERALL decision. When all of this plays out, Mullen will have shown Jones AND ANY OTHER QB THAT SIGNS WITH FLORIDA down the road that Mullen is gonna have your back… within reason.
    Has Florida lost any games because of Jones? No. And YES… those were against inferior opponents and YES, Jones could lose us against better opponents in the coming weeks.
    But Coach Mullen has shown Jones (and the rest of the team) that he will hang with you… up to a point. Just imagine if Mullen had replaced Jones after the first game with Richardson and said, “Well… that’s it… Richardson is our starter now… thanks Jones.” What kind of message would that have sent? What if Mullen had made the decision and announced to have AR15 to be the starter for the Alabama game? Technically, that would have been the thing to do… but Mullen thinks way beyond the mark. Now, if Jones struggles this Saturday and throws some more picks… that’s another story. But Florida has lost NOTHING at this point. NOTHING. But he has shown Jones, his family and his teammates that he is not a knee-jerk type of coach.
    As for the middle of the field not being used…and us having some of the best tight ends in all of college football with Gamble and Zip… Mullen and Brewster are being foxes.
    Thank you….