The Florida Gators exploded for a 35-3 lead midway through the second quarter, and from there, cruised to a 42-20 win over South Florida. What stood out in the process?
1: Florida’s got issues, but it could be so much worse
Rarely will I ever waste one of these five takeaways on something that happened in another game (among other reasons, it’s terrible for SEO purposes) but let’s take a second to acknowledge what happened in the Sunshine State capital as the clock struck midnight to welcome in Sunday morning.
On the final play of the game, the Florida State Seminoles were burned by Jacksonville State on a walkoff 59 yard touchdown bomb to lose the game. That’s right, the same fan base that has been yapping nonstop about Florida’s loss to Georgia Southern two coaches ago just lost to an FCS team in even more humiliating fashion. And the Seminoles have won a national championship more recently than the Florida Gators. Oh, how the mighty have fallen.
So yes, Florida has plenty of things to work on- the Gators could very well lose to Alabama by four or five touchdowns- but when discussing the current state of the Gator program, let’s always be cognizant that things could be so, so much worse.
2: A tale of two halves for Emory Jones
If Emory Jones is going to be the starter for Dan Mullen, which version of him is he going to get? That’s the question among Gator fans right now. And it’s more than a fair one.
Though not perfect in the first half, Jones was plenty effective in the first half, moving the ball at will against the South Florida defense both on the ground and through the air. The second half, not so much. Jones telegraphed two interceptions and nearly threw a third, hoisting an ill-advised ball into a sea of emerald-green jerseys in the corner of the end zone. And that one came after Anthony Richardson had driven the Gators down inside the five yard line, but had to leave the game because his helmet came off.
It’s clear that Emory Jones is capable of delivering super accurate passes on some occasions, the way it’s clear he’s an electric runner. But if, when he’s not super accurate he’s giving the ball away- he’s now thrown four picks against FAU and USF- he’s going to have serious problems holding onto the starting QB job. Especially if the guy behind him keeps doing what he’s doing.
3: AR-15 states his case to start
Can we say that Anthony Richardson tore up the USF defense? Maybe, but if we’re being totally objective, that’s not especially difficult to do. I’ll be blunt: that might have been the single worst defense I’ve ever seen Florida face at the FBS level (I’m 27, so I only started really following the Gators seriously towards the end of the Spurrier era). It’s up there (or I guess down there) with the FIU team the Gators hammered 62-3 back in 2009 and the San Jose State squad Florida embarrassed 65-3 in 2003.
Still- Anthony Richardson made plays when they were there, and that’s all you can ask a guy to do. Especially when he’s a (COVID) freshman. When Jacob Copeland created ten yards of separation on a major busted coverage, Richardson hit him right in stride for a 75 yard touchdown. When South Florida took bad angles or attacked the wrong hip to try to bring him down, Richardson fried them on an 80 yard touchdown run.
Will Alabama, or anyone else on the schedule for that matter, be as fundamentally inept and athletically limited as USF? Probably not, and therefore it’s unrealistic to expect him to repeat the performance against anyone other than Samford. But he’s done absolutely everything Florida could have possibly asked of him to this point, and begs the question of what else he has to do to win the job- especially if Emory Jones continues making bad decisions.
4: Dan Mullen, you’ve officially got a QB controversy- because you created one
Here we go. Buckle up.
I’m all for giving a guy who’s waited three years a fair chance to prove one way or another what he can do on the field. I understand loyalty and continuity have been big reasons why Dan Mullen has been as successful as he’s been. And I’ll even get personal here in a positive way and say that there are few Gators I have ever rooted for as hard as I’m rooting for Emory Jones. I love the guy’s work ethic, love his loyalty, love his commitment to the program, and I love how close he is with backup Anthony Richardson- even as they’re being seemingly pitted against one another for the QB1 role. I really, really want it to work for him.
But at the very least, Mullen no longer gets to act like it’s crazy for fans to at least wonder why Anthony Richardson isn’t the starting quarterback. As individual fans, you’re entitled to believe that either Emory or AR-15 should start- and given the tape the two have put out there, it’s absolutely not crazy to think that Anthony Richardson should start. When Dan Mullen says something like this, it’s his attempt to gaslight the fanbase. And frankly, that pisses me off like nothing else he’s ever done before.
So let’s be real clear here. No, Dan. You may have an elite pedigree of developing QB’s, but fans are not especially likely to find much amusement in the idea that you refuse to at least consider the possibility that Anthony Richardson might be the best man for the QB job. And eventually, if this continues long enough, at some point down the road, I’m willing to bet that your bosses won’t either. (To be clear- we’re not at that point yet. We’re nowhere close to it. He just won his 100th game as a head coach- which would be a bigger story if not for this QB discussion- for a reason.)
The longer Florida goes in 2021 without consistently good-or-better QB play, the more sizable of a dent gets hammered into that QB development pedigree- and if it’s because you refuse to hand the reins to someone that the totality of the film proves beyond a reasonable doubt to be better, that’s an even bigger problem. Oh, and while we’re on the subject- where would Kyle Trask be today if Feleipe Franks didn’t get hurt against Kentucky?
So this is on you, Dan Mullen. You started this “QB controversy” by acting like fans are the crazy ones for thinking that you might even consider making a switch at QB when the starter throws four picks against a pair of directional Group of Five schools and the backup lights them both up.
Is there a fair argument to start Emory Jones? Sure. In all honesty- yes, there is. Even if you don’t agree with the argument to start him, it at least exists in the realm of understandability. But what’s not going to fly is acting like presenting the slightest bit of pushback to that argument crosses into the territory of insanity. If you want an example of that, see your own attempts to justify bringing back Todd Grantham for year number four after his defense got electrocuted for 600+ yards three separate times in 2020.
Dan, please. I still very much like you, believe in you as Florida’s head coach, and want to see you win games at Florida for a long time. But please, for the love of all things holy, do the right thing- and let game tape, not loyalty, dictate who you roll with.
5: Token shoutout to the Florida defense
The Florida Gators’ defense wasn’t really tested by a good opponent on Saturday, but they did look serviceable against USF. Not great, and certainly not elite, but serviceable. Which is more than we can say about last year’s defense.
In particular, shoutouts are in order for Jeremiah Moon, Zach Carter and Kaiir Elam. After playing sparingly for five years, Moon finally broke through with a monster game, recording a sack among his five tackle. Carter impacted the stat sheet in his own way, blowing up three plays for TFLs in his hometown stadium and redirecting a bunch more. And Kaiir Elam is still frighteningly athletic, and a major problem for anyone who dares to test him, proving that with a diving interception to kill a USF drive near midfield.
But it’s a token shoutout because USF, as mentioned multiple times, is objectively horrible. The Bulls were blown away 45-0 by NC State in their opener, and have now lost 24 of their last 29 games dating back to 2018. And the Gators did blow a coverage early in the game that, against a good opponent, would have been six points (thankfully, the USF receiver dropped what would have been an easy 73 yard touchdown pass). Still: Florida held in the red zone twice, forced three three-and-outs plus that pick by Elam, and at least provided some semblance of promise heading into next week’s showdown with Alabama.