TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Starter Emory Jones or backup Anthony Richardson.
Florida coach Dan Mullen insists the 13th-ranked Gators (2-0) don’t have a quarterback controversy or a reason to change the depth chart after Richardson outplayed Jones for the second straight game in a 42-20 rout of South Florida on Saturday.
“We have two quarterbacks that are pretty talented guys that can make things happen on the field,” Mullen said. “But there are a lot of things quarterbacks have to do.”
Jones and Richardson shared playing time, with each having his way in the opening half against a USF defense that allowed touchdowns on five consecutive possessions after producing a three-and-out to start the game.
Jones threw a 35-yard TD pass to Xzavier Henderson and scored on a 33-yard run on the way to a 35-3 halftime lead before a crowd of 66,646 at Raymond James Stadium.
The redshirt junior from LaGrange, Georgia, was not nearly as effective the rest of the way, though, tossing a pair of interceptions and turning the ball over on downs on four straight possessions to begin the second half.
“I thought (Jones) played much better this week than last week. I just thought we got sloppy in the second half,” Mullen said.
“I feel like I came out a little slow in the second half, which led to those two interceptions,” Jones said. “Just bad decisions by me. I shouldn’t have thrown those balls.”
Richardson, meanwhile, took an astounding passer rating of 917.2 into the fourth quarter after completing his first two attempts to Jacob Copeland on scoring plays of 75 and 41 yards before halftime.
The 6-foot-4, 236-pound backup from Gainesville, Florida, completed his only pass of the second half for 36 yards to finish 3 of 3 for 152 yards, two TDs and a 745.6 rating that seemingly would be difficult for Mullen to ignore with top-ranked and defending champion Alabama visiting The Swamp next Saturday.
“He does special things. He doesn’t always do the right thing, but he does special things,” Mullen said. “We have to keep coaching him up.”
Mullen said Jones will start, and both quarterbacks will play, against Alabama.
“I thought both of them were pretty efficient in the first half. It’s a long season and we have young quarterbacks that I have to continue to grow and develop into being good football players,” Mullen said.
“We’re trying to win football games,” the coach added after his 100th career victory. “My responsibility is to put the team in a position to win and there’s a lot that goes into that.”
Richardson also outplayed Jones in a season-opening rout of Florida Atlantic, rushing for 160 yards on seven carries to key a 21-point victory. He may have sealed his bid for the starting job Saturday when he broke a tackle, then stiff-armed another defender, on an 80-yard TD run that put the Gators up 42-13 early in the fourth quarter.
Jones finished 14 of 22 for 151 yards, one TD and two interceptions. He’s thrown four picks in two games against overmatched opponents after Kyle Trask threw eight all of last season against the all-SEC schedule the Gators played because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Richardson, who rushed for 115 yards on four carries against USF, limped to the sideline after Mullen said the backup’s right hamstring tightened on his long TD run.
USF, which dropped its opener 45-0 at North Carolina State, fell to 1-10 under second-year coach Jeff Scott.
Scott was encouraged by the way the Bulls (0-2) played after trailing by 32 at the half.
“I told our guys there’s nothing we can do about the first half, but what I expect them to do is go out and play better the second half and we did,” Scott said.
“I really think we’re going to look back three, four weeks from now,” the USF coach continued, “and say the second half of this game is where we kind of started to turn the corner here.”
This was every bit the mismatch it appeared on paper. Regardless of whether Jones or Richardson was at quarterback, the Bulls had no answers for slowing down the Florida offense before the score got out of hand.
The Gators defense allowed an early 17-play, 75-yard drive, however the Bulls settled for a field goal and never seriously threatened to score again until Mekhi LaPointe’s interception and 50-yard return to the Florida 10 set up another field goal in the third quarter. Jones’ second interception set up a USF touchdown.
Considering USF was 1-8 last season and has been outscored 201-87 over its past four games, Saturday’s blowout likely won’t be enough to propel the Gators into the top 10. They’ll get a chance to impress voters next week, though, against Alabama.
Florida: Home vs. top-ranked and defending national champion Alabama next Saturday.
South Florida: Home vs. Florida A&M next Saturday.
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