As redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson leapt into the air, sailing over the Florida Atlantic defender helplessly diving below him, the crowd at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium erupted into a triumphant roar.
As the young quarterback juked, sprinted and carved his way through the Owls’ defense in the fourth quarter of Sept. 4’s season opener, the same question began to circulate through the crowd and across social media.
Should Richardson start?
The Gainesville product promises to be a supremely talented player. His four-star rating as a recruit and team-high 160 rushing yards against FAU indicated nothing else. Calls for him to supersede redshirt junior Emory Jones after a single game, however, are premature.
After three years of biding his time, Jones’ first game at the helm of Florida’s offense proved to be a bumpy ride. The Gators opened with two touchdowns but then stalled slightly, not scoring for nearly two quarters. In the interim, Jones tossed a pair of ugly interceptions, one of which came in the end zone to halt a drive seemingly destined for points.
Jones’ accuracy remained erratic most of the night, failing to connect on slants over the middle of the field. He indicated after the game that he was disappointed in his performance, saying he’d watch film that same night.
“It was just sloppy and rusty,” Jones said. “I mean, we just got to go back in the lab and get better, try to get better every week.”
He was candid after the game about the prospects of his and Richardson’s play creating controversy within the media and in the fanbase.
“I’m happy for him (Richardson),” Jones said about outside news on his starting job, “But yeah, I’m definitely expecting, I mean, it’s happening right now but I’m not really worried about it. I just got to focus in on next week.”
On paper, however, there was little to separate Richardson and Jones through the air. Jones completed 63% of his passes for 4.19 yards per attempt, while Richardson managed 37.5% and 5.0 yards per attempt in those respective categories. In fact, 36 of Richardson’s 40 passing yards came on one play.
His other seven attempts? Two completions for four yards.
Obviously, statistics never tell the full story, and Richardson displayed true promise, but to say the redshirt freshman showed something with his arm his elder failed to display against Florida Atlantic is a semantic argument, at best.
Jones’ talent isn’t unproven, either. He completed 10 of 16 passes against SEC competition a season ago, averaged 7.13 yards per attempt his first three seasons on campus and didn’t throw an interception across his 54 attempts in 2018 and 2019. He completed 5 of 7 passes on a drive that resulted in a pivotal field goal when Kyle Trask went down against No. 7 Auburn and tossed a touchdown against eventual national champion LSU in 2019.
His time was limited, but ignoring the promise he showed and rejecting his endurance of toiling as a backup for three years after a single bad performance isn’t “having high standards,” it’s impatience.
A quarterback struggling against Florida Atlantic is not a death sentence, either. FAU finished within the top ten in the country in scoring defense (17.44 points per game allowed) and 16th in passing yards allowed (188.2 per game) in 2020. The Owls strictly played within Conference USA, but they still ranked second in their conference in both stats. Heralding FAU as a championship-caliber defense would be hyperbole, but its pass defense is not to be scoffed at.
Next on the schedule? South Florida, who ranked 122nd and 60th in those respective categories and lost its opener 45-0 to North Carolina State.
In a media availability on Monday, Florida head coach Dan Mullen backed his starting quarterback and said Jones remained the more prepared of the two to run the entire offense. He highlighted that Florida’s first touchdown came after Jones’ optioned to the correct play on the field after surveying the defense and added that he felt Richardon missed several simple checks within Florida’s game plan.
“How we do our grades, Anthony probably graded a little higher because he had explosive plays,” Mullen said. “But if I went pure without giving the bonus points in, (they were) probably very similar.”
Only time will tell if Jones’ uneven debut was the product of first-game jitters and a calamity of errors or potential destined to remain untapped. To suggest Mullen should abandon the talent he groomed for three years at the drop of a pin for the new flashy freshman, however, is reactionary enough to turn flourine’s cheeks red.
Give him time.
Contact Ryan Haley at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley.
Ryan Haley, a UF journalism senior with a sports & media specialization from Jacksonville, Florida, is Summer 2022's Engagement Managing Editor. He grew up playing a bunch of different sports before settling on golf, following Rory McIlroy and all Philadelphia sports teams. He also loves all things fiction, reading, watching shows and movies and talking about whatever current story or character is in his head.