Florida backup quarterback Anthony Richardson turned left toward a trio of receivers on the field side with just under 10 minutes left in the game.
The Gainesville native snapped his head back right toward wide receiver Jacob Copeland, who had a step on Tigers’ cornerback Dwight McGlothern.
Richardson ripped a bullet down the right sideline, hitting the redshirt junior in the center of his white jersey number to tie the game at 42 apiece as Death Valley fell silent. It was the fourth straight drive Richardson commanded into the end zone.
His performance versus LSU signified the passing of the torch from starter Emory Jones to Richardson. Jones remained on the bench at the start of the third quarter following a pick-six, his second interception of the contest.
Despite a second pick on Florida’s final drive that sealed the victory for the Tigers, Richardson earned the right to start versus No. 1 Georgia in Jacksonville on Saturday.
Jones’ final interception against LSU was his ninth of the season — the most from a Florida quarterback in a single season since Jeff Driskel in 2014, who was also benched.
UF’s latest loss knocked it firmly out of the SEC East race and from the New Year’s Six bowl conversation (Hello, Gator Bowl). With this season essentially a lost cause, Richardson should be the man moving forward and Florida needs to retool for 2022.
Coach Dan Mullen hasn’t confirmed the obvious choice thus far, however, and likely won’t until kickoff on Saturday against the Bulldogs.
“I thought you saw some good things from both quarterbacks today, saw some mistakes from both quarterbacks today,” Mullen said after the LSU loss. “So we’ll evaluate that, of how that’s going to play out moving forward.”
He added he made the switch to Jones and stuck with Richardson in the second half because the redshirt freshman had the hot hand.
It’s admirable Mullen stuck with and shown loyalty to the redshirt junior, who has hung around the Gators program for four seasons, but it’s clear Richardson has more potential.
Most of Jones’ interceptions can be pinned on poor timing, anticipation and accuracy. He has been gun-shy, while Richardson isn’t afraid to empty the clip.
Mullen said throughout the season Jones has done things that sometimes can’t be seen, like pre-snap checks, better than his young counterpart, but Richardson knows how to make big plays as a redshirt freshman.
“I love everybody labeling people,” he said. “He’s a young quarterback that’s learning and developing. That’s a good label for him.”
Will Miles of Read & Reaction attributed five explosive plays to Richardson in 26 touches versus the Tigers, while Jones added two in 29 snaps. On the season, “AR-15” has recorded 13 explosive plays this season, once every five touches, compared to the Georgia native’s 20 (one in every 13 plays).
Junior linebacker Mohamoud Diabate noticed the spark Richardson provided the Gators when he entered early in the second half.
“I like what he did when he got in there,” he said after the game. “I saw the offense kind of jolt up. So that was a good look.”
Diabate said he noticed glimpses of Richardson’s brilliance as soon as he arrived on campus at UF.
“I saw it in bowl practice getting ready for the Orange Bowl in 2019,” he said. “I saw it when he came in, and we knew from that point forward. I remember me and (former Florida defensive end) Jon Greenard were talking on the sideline one practice, and we were like, “Yeah, that boy’s going to be legit.’”
Richardson wouldn’t comment on whether he felt he deserves to be named the starter when asked after the game.
It was concerning for Florida fans, however, when he didn’t ease their concerns about the possibility of him entering the NCAA transfer portal.
“I can’t speak on that,” Richardson said when asked about transferring. “Time is the only thing that can tell, but right now I’m a Gator. So that’s the only thing that matters.”
After sending shockwaves across the college football landscape, he sent out a tweet to clarify what he meant.
“I am a Florida Gator, through and through,” Richardson wrote. “Sorry if my response wasn’t clear enough, but I’m not worried about anything but maximizing my opportunity now.”
Regardless, Richardson should lead the Gators offense onto the field at TIAA Bank Field on Saturday versus the No. 1 Bulldogs and for the foreseeable future.
Contact Zachary Huber at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @zacharyahuber.