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Thursday, December 02, 2021

Florida offense offers mixed bag versus FAU

Running game shines while aerial attack sputters

Malik Davis (20) takes a handoff from Emory Jones during Florida's season-opening 35-14 victory over Florida Atlantic on Sept. 4.
Malik Davis (20) takes a handoff from Emory Jones during Florida's season-opening 35-14 victory over Florida Atlantic on Sept. 4.

Florida redshirt freshman backup quarterback Anthony Richardson placed the ball in redshirt senior Malik Davis’ gut as he watched Florida Atlantic’s Ryan Veingrad crash toward the middle in an attempt to tackle his running back. 

The Gainesville product read the play like a book, yanked the rock from Davis and followed redshirt senior tight end Kemore Gamble outside. Gamble flawlessly executed a kick-out block on the Owls’ Zyron Gilbert, gifting Richardson a wide-open chasm into daylight.

He outraced five FAU defenders down the right sideline for 73 yards to the endzone to put the exclamation point on Florida’s season opener on Sept. 4. Richardson and Davis torched the Owls for 264 yards on the ground combined as Florida ran for 400 yards as a team in a 35-14 victory over FAU. 

“We just saw that they couldn’t stop us, honestly,” Davis said about the game. “Everything we wanted to do, we did it.”

Head coach Dan Mullen said Davis played like himself. He admired how hard he ran, which helped him break tackles, and the vision he displayed to find seams to exploit. 

The offense Florida fans witnessed opening night was a complete U-turn from 2020, when now-Buccaneer quarterback Kyle Trask helped the Gators pace the nation with 378.6 passing yards per game last season

Mullen reiterated his commitment to putting his team and his players in the best position to succeed. 

“We’re gonna do what our guys do well,” Mullen said. “Our explosive plays came on the ground tonight… If we need to lead the nation in rushing, we’ll do that.”

It’s a stretch to predict Florida will become one of the country’s rushing leaders in 2021, but its 400-yard rushing performance Sept. 4 was the most in Mullen’s four years with the Gators. 

Expect Mullen to lean on his running backs corps and the legs of his quarterbacks as the season progresses, however, because of how the passing game looked shaky. 

Starting quarterback Emory Jones failed to inspire fans with his arm. The LaGrange, Georgia, native seemed like he wanted a do-over for his first start in the orange and blue after he tossed two picks, one of which occurred in the end zone. Jones completed 62.9% of his passes, but some of his misses occurred on simple routes due to poor accuracy with a ball thrown behind a target or skipped to the receiver’s feet. 

“I don’t really feel that good about it honestly,” Jones said about his performance. “I definitely have to play better.”

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Richardson entered the game in garbage time and immediately commanded Florida on two touchdown drives. He lasered a pass to redshirt sophomore wide receiver Ja’Markis Weston for 36 yards to enter the red zone that set up a Davis touchdown two plays later. 

The Gainesville product then scampered for the defining 73-yard score. The most impressive play of the evening came when he juked two defenders in the backfield, broke a tackle and effortlessly hurdled another FAU tackler before running out of bounds on the right sideline to cap off an 11-yard run for a first down. 

His performance left many fans wanting Mullen to name Richardson the starter, but the coach wouldn’t oblige. 

“Obviously, Emory’s our starter,” he said in an interview with SEC Network following the game. 

He said he expected Jones to miss a read or two in his first start but vowed to get it cleaned up. 

“I think our concern, we missed a couple little reads, and we missed some reads that we shouldn't miss. A couple of checks, you know? That type of deal is stuff that we've got to get cleaned up and stuff that you haven't seen a ton in practice but all the sudden it's different.”

Jones said after the game he was going to watch film right when he got home to ensure he doesn’t make similar mistakes on Sept. 11 at 1 p.m. versus USF. 

Contact Zachary Huber at zhuber@alligator.org. Follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.

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