Florida football score, takeaways: Anthony Richardson balls, ratchets up QB controversy as Gators beat USF

By Adam Silverstein
September 11, 2021
Florida football score, takeaways: Anthony Richardson balls, ratchets up QB controversy as Gators beat USF
Football

Image Credit: GatorsFB / Twitter

The quarterback controversy surrounding the No. 13 Florida Gators kicked into fourth gear Saturday as redshirt freshman Anthony Richardson put forward an other-worldly performance as redshirt junior Emory Jones struggled in a 42-20 win over the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Florida. The tide turned massively in the second half after both signal callers appeared to play well through the opening 30 minutes.

Despite Florida leading 35-3 at halftime, it was actually outscored 20-7 in the second half by a South Florida team that took advantage of two Jones interceptions and found holes in a lacking secondary, exposing problems that were already noticeable last week.

What was largely meant to be a get-right game for the Gators was another example of the team struggling more than it should — on both sides of the ball — against overmatched opponents last week. As Florida prepares to welcome No. 1 Alabama for one of the top college football games of the season next week, it needed a confidence builder. Instead, it got a game that only created more questions.

So what exactly went down Saturday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa? OnlyGators.com is here to break down Florida vs. USF with some takeaways as the teams met for the first time in 11 years to kick off a three-game series with the next two meetings set to play out in Gainesville.

1. There’s actually no QB controversy … Richardson needs to start for the Gators. Whatever defects head coach Dan Mullen may see in the rookie’s game, his playmaking ability and exceptional athletic talent make him a no-brainer as Florida’s starter. It would be one thing if Jones was playing well but Richardson was just impressing fans, such as Tim Tebow did while spelling Chris Leak in 2006. That’s not the case here.

Jones has now thrown four interceptions in two games against two of the three worst opponents on the Gators’ schedule this season. He struggled in the red zone against FAU (throwing one pick into the end zone and making a mistake on a key fourth-down play), got stopped in the red zone again by USF and nearly threw two pick sixes (one dropped vs. FAU, one stopped on a downfield run vs. USF). He’s also had a couple other near-interceptions saved by simple drops.

He neither shows touch on his passes nor anticipation while watching routes nor the ability to scan the field. His passes are generally thrown accurately, but they are often late and to receivers he’s locked in, giving defensive backs the ability to jump routes.

Richardson is electric. He has nearly a dozen explosive plays as a reserve in two games with four touchdowns of more than 40 yards. He’s the first quarterback in program history to rush for 100+ yards in consecutive games and the first since Tebow in 2009 to throw and rush for 100+ yards in the same game. Again, all of this without being the starter and only seeing seven plays Saturday behind Jones.

“He does special things,” Mullen said of Richardson. “Doesn’t always do the right thing, but he does special things. We gotta keep coaching him to be efficient and make sure he makes all the right reads.”

Does that mean Richardson will start next week? Not quite. When asked about Jones remaining QB1, Mullen said “yes,” indicating that he will remain in that role. “We have two really good quarterbacks. You’ll see both of them play every single game,” he added.

With Alabama visiting Florida next week, Jones will get picked apart by one of the top secondaries in the nation. The only way the Gators can keep the Crimson Tide honest is by ensuring that Richardson, a true threat, is on the field every play. Even if Richardson throws a couple interceptions or makes some rookie mistakes, his presence will make the Tide think twice while opening rushing lanes.

This should be an absolute no-brainer for Mullen. If he’s not simply playing coy, he’s potentially making a grave mistake in front of a fan base that has no patience when it comes to quarterback play. Mullen’s stubbornness is legendary — to be fair, his loyalty is as well — and it could absolutely cost him fan sentiment if he sticks to his guns.

“We’re trying to win football games, and my responsibility is putting everybody on the team in position to win,” said Mullen, dismissing that he’s sticking with Jones due to loyalty alone. “There’s an awful lot that goes into that. I know everybody loves just looking at the two quarterbacks. There’s 10 other guys on the field on every single snap.”

2. … but there is a problem: While Richardson played great Saturday, he pulled up lame on an 80-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter, favoring his right hamstring. Though Richardson was not medically treated on the sideline, he was ruled out for the remainder of the game and hobbled to the locker room after the final whistle. It appears as if Richardson only tweaked his hamstring as Mullen said after the game it “tightened up on him” at the end of his long run.

It will certainly be worth following whether Richardson is cleared to practice early next week, and if so, whether he’s able to practice in full. If a redshirt freshman without a career start under his belt is not able to fully participate in practice ahead of a game against Alabama, it’s going to be unlikely that he starts the game whether Mullen wants to put him in that position or not. That’s just simple facts.

Still, there can be no denying Richardson’s electricity. He connected with redshirt junior wide receiver Jacob Copeland on touchdowns of 75 and 41 yards Saturday, also dropping a 36-yard dime to him near the sideline that gave Florida another red zone opportunity (squandered by Jones). In addition to his 80-yard touchdown run Saturday, he had an incredible 73-yard run last week against FAU. That type of production and explosiveness cannot be on the sideline. Richardson on Saturday became the first FBS player in the last quarter century to rush for 100+ yards, pass for 150+ yards and complete all of his passes in a game.

Ignoring the interceptions, the stat lines are similar. Jones completed 14 of 22 passes for 151 yards with a touchdown, rushing for 82 yards and another score. Richardson competed all three of his passes for 152 yards with two touchdowns through the air plus 115 yards and another score on the ground. The problem? Those interceptions — and other miscues — do matter. And they are why Jones cannot remain Florida’s starter.

3. Playmaking performances: Copeland’s two big touchdowns and additional long catch from Richardson led to his career-high 175 yards receiving on the day. He caught all five of his targets, averaging 35 yards per reception and looking like the true No. 1 playmaker that UF needs. Sophomore Xzavier Henderson also had a sterling effort with 58 yards and a touchdown, hauling in all four of his targets. After a tremendous effort against FAU, redshirt senior running back Malik Davis was largely bottled up with 31 combined yards on nine touches, while senior RB Dameon Pierce had a tremendous series with 42 yards and a touchdown on three runs but only touched it twice more in the game.

Mullen also addressed the fact that Florida’s tight ends have neither caught a pass nor gained a yard this season through two games: “They’re doing a great job. Their production is excellent. Really pleased with how they are playing.”

4. More defensive questions: It cannot be ignored that South Florida was given incredible field position thanks to a pair of interceptions with long returns and a 44-yard punt return, all of which led to second-half scores for the Bulls. Still, the Gators were actually outscored 17-7 in the second half with their offensive failures causing most of the issues as the defense failed to contain the Bulls once they were in plus field position. This against a team that was shutout 45-0 by NC State last week.

USF got 20 first downs on the day and completed plenty of big passes over whatever No. 2 cornerback Florida put in the game be it redshirt freshman Avery Helm or freshman Jason Marshall Jr. Helm got called for a pass interference penalty, and Marshall barely avoided one himself. Not to be insulting to South Florida’s pass catchers, but they are not in the same league as what Florida is going to face next week when Alabama comes to town. Though junior CB Kaiir Elam nabbed an interception, an entire side of the field across from him being a liability is bad news.

“Good and bad,” Mullen said of how Helm and Marshall played. “But you know what? They’re young guys being thrown into that situation. The injury we had didn’t help us [at cornerback]. Those two guys are gaining valuable experience and are getting a little better from one week to the next. I thought their performance was much better today than it was last week, which is a positive. Hopefully, we take another step next week.”

5. Win No. 100: Saturday’s victory marked Mullen’s 100th career win as a head coach. He is now 31-9 in his first 40 games at Florida and one win away from matching the best record through 41 games (32-9) achieved by Urban Meyer and Steve Spurrier. That will be difficult to achieve considering Alabama is coming to town.

6. Odds and ends: Florida is now 2-0 all-time against USF and 9-0 against in-state opponents other than Florida State and Miami … this was the first time in program history the Gators opened the season with two in-state opponents … UF has opened a season 2-0 for the third straight season … Florida has now won four straight games in Tampa, improving to 28-14-3 all-time … under Mullen, the Gators are 22-3 when scoring first, 27-2 when leading after the third quarter, 21-0 when allowing 20 points or fewer and 23-0 when outrushing their opponents … UF improved to 23-3 against unranked opponents and 12-1 against nonconference opponents under Mullen … the Gators have scored 24+ points in 28 of their last 31 games … Florida has posted 400+ yards of total offense in 12 consecutive games, the longest such streak since at least 1981 … the Gators’ 666 total yards Saturday was the fifth-highest total in program history … UF is one of two teams nationally (Alabama) that has not lost to an opponent that finished the season with a losing record since 2004 … Florida has scored in 412 consecutive games, an NCAA record

7. What’s next? Florida will remain a top 15 team next week and could enter the top 10 before it hosts No. 1 Alabama on Saturday. It will mark the first SEC on CBS Game of the Week this season, kicking off the premier package at 3:30 p.m. ET on CBS. The Gators have lost seven straight games to the Crimson Tide by an average of 21.6 points. This is the first meeting between Florida and Alabama in the regular season since 2014 and the first in Gainesville, Florida, since 2011.

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