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Thursday, October 06, 2022

Jones and Richardson confront mercurial recent history with first Georgia start

One Florida QB will have the chance to do something even Tebow couldn’t: win his first start against the Bulldogs

Florida quarterbacks Emory Jones (5) and Anthony Richardson (15) leave the field for halftime during a game against Vanderbilt on Oct. 9.
Florida quarterbacks Emory Jones (5) and Anthony Richardson (15) leave the field for halftime during a game against Vanderbilt on Oct. 9.

With a neutral site rivalry game against the No. 1 team on the horizon, Florida football would want nothing less than uncertainty at the quarterback position. Through its first seven games, however, that’s exactly what the Gators have.

Redshirt junior Emory Jones and backup Anthony Richardson left more curiosity than closure about the top of the depth chart after Richardson’s near-comeback against LSU. Regardless of who takes the first snap on Saturday in the orange and blue, however, he’d be making his first start against Georgia.

So how have recent UF quarterbacks fared in debut appearances against the Bulldogs? While none have faced a defense as vaunted as 2021, the results fall all across the spectrum.

Former Heisman finalist Kyle Trask took his first crack at UGA in 2019, and the Florida offense seemed content to mimic the reptile from Aesop’s The Tortoise and the Hare. The Gators failed to convert on a fourth and 1 on their opening drive and mustered 105 yards and a field goal on 21 first-half plays.

True to the fable, Trask and the Gators refused to fall out of arm’s reach, and the then-redshirt junior led touchdowns on Florida’s final two drives to bring his team within one score. He finished with 21 completions on 33 attempts, 257 yards and two touchdowns, but left Jacksonville with a 24-17 loss.

His predecessor, Feleipe Franks, fared far worse in his Georgia premiere, as Florida suffered one of the most lopsided defeats in the rivalry’s storied history. En route to a 42-7 loss in 2017, the first-year starter completed one of his first five passes for -1 yard. Negative one. He also threw an interception. He ended the game with 30 yards passing on 19 attempts, and he took five sacks for the afternoon.

Even two-time national champion quarterback Tim Tebow dropped his first start against the ‘Dawgs. In 2007, just 42 days before he became the first sophomore to win the Heisman, Tebow completed 14 of his 22 passes for 236 yards and tallied three touchdowns, one with his arm and two with his legs.

Tebow orchestrated the UF offense to 30 points, but his efforts proved futile against Georgia and future No. 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford. Florida fell, 42-30, for its third and final loss of the regular season. 

The other quarterback on the 2006 national championship team, Chris Leak, entered the Jacksonville arena for the first time in 2003 and left with a 16-13 victory. Leak only threw a single touchdown, but in a game with under 30 combined points, he piloted Florida to a victory with 13 completions on 23 attempts for 235 yards.

Since Leak waltzed his way back to Gainesville with a win 18 years ago, only three Gators quarterbacks repeated his feat in their first venture against the Bulldogs: John Brantley in 2010, Treon Harris in 2014 and Luke Del Rio in 2016.

An eclectic list to be sure, Brantley assumed the unenviable role of replacing Tim Tebow at the turn of the decade. While he couldn’t match the Florida legend’s national awards and only mustered an 8-5 record his first year under center, he nabbed Georgia with a 34-31 overtime victory. Brantley only threw for 193 yards in the game, but an extra-time interception from UGA counterpart Aaron Murray set up a game-winning kick for the Gators.

Treon Harris threw the ball six times for 30 yards during Florida’s 38-20 victory in 2014, but the team’s 418 rushing yards and quintet of ground touchdowns ensured further contributions weren’t needed.

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In another low-scoring affair five years ago, Del Rio tossed a touchdown and an interception apiece to pair with 131 yards on 25 attempts, but his lone score to C’yontai Lewis at the end of the first quarter gave the Gators a lead they would never relinquish. Florida won that game 24-10, it’s second-most recent victory over the Bulldogs.

While immediate success against Georgia doesn’t seem to perfectly predict long-term success (almost the opposite, in fact), either Jones or Richardson will take the field on Saturday with a chance to add do something even Tebow and Trask failed to accomplish — take down the Bulldogs without a test run.

Contact Ryan Haley at Follow him on Twitter @ryan_dhaley.

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Ryan Haley

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.

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