Florida backup quarterback Anthony Richardson put on another dazzling performance to lead the No. 13 Gators to a 42-20 win Saturday against USF in Tampa.
Richardson also took away the breath of Gator Nation when the big-play redshirt freshman walked gingerly off the field following an 80-yard touchdown run during the fourth quarter to cap another big day off the bench.
UF coach Dan Mullen said Richardson experienced tightness in his hamstring, a potential red flag with Saturday’s visit from top-ranked Alabama’s Crimson Tide on the horizon.
“He does special things,” Mullen said.
A week after Richardson stole the show with a 73-yard touchdown run during a 35-14 season-opening win against FAU, he entered during UF’s third series against USF and threw a 75-yard touchdown on his first play to Jacob Copeland. Richardson found Copeland again for a 41-yard touchdown two series later.
On the day Mullen picked up his 100th career win, Richardson’s play further fueled discussion of who should be UF’s starting quarterback.
Mullen said it remains a non-issue, reiterating Emory Jones remains the team’s QB1.
“We have two really good quarterbacks,” Mullen said. “You’ll see both of them play every single game.”
Jones, a redshirt junior in his fourth year in the program, did respond to Richardson’s touchdowns with his own.
Jones showed pinpoint accuracy and deft touch to find sophomore Xzaiver Henderson for a 35-yard touchdown in tight coverage. Jones ran for a 33-yard touchdown to push the Gators’ lead to 35-3 with 6:41 remaining in the first half.
“I definitely felt more comfortable out there, as you probably could see,” Jones said. “I definitely feel like I improved a little bit from last week.”
But after throwing for just 113 yards and tossing two interceptions against FAU, Jones undercut his performance with interceptions on consecutive third-quarter possessions against USF.
“The first one was a bad one,” Mullen said. “The second one, he just has to speed up his read. He was just late on his throw. Those are things you got to continue to learn.”
Jones’ hold on the quarterback job appeared even more tenuous when Richardson rolled left and threw the ball across his body for a 36-yard completion to Copeland.
At that point, Richardson was 3-of-3 passing for 152 yards with a passer rating of 745.6 while Jones suddenly was struggling with his confidence.
Now the real work begins.
Mullen’s squad will have to elevate its performance considerably against Alabama. The matchup offers the Gators a chance to pick up a program-changing win or receive a reality check on national TV against the SEC standard-bearer.
“They’re going to come with it every year and this year we got them at home, so that’s the good thing for us,” said linebacker Jeremiah Moon, a native of Alabama. “So we’re just going to come out and play as hard as we can and see what happens.”
The Crimson Tide outlasted the Gators and quarterback Kyle Trask during a dramatic 52-46 Alabama win during the 2020 SEC title game.
A pair of one-sided yet uninspiring victories to open the 2021 season raised questions about the Gators on both sides of the ball, but the biggest question appears to be who will be the team’s primary quarterback during the SEC opener.
Mullen does not see it that way while hinting Richardson and Jones offer some intriguing options against Alabama coach Nick Saban’s team.
“I have a responsibility to put everybody on the team in position to win and there’s an awful lot that goes into that,” Mullen said. “I know everybody loves just looking at the two quarterbacks. There’s 10 other guys on the field until I put in our two-quarterback offense, which I haven’t shown yet. Then there’s only nine other guys on the field.
“When you look at those things, my job is to put us in the best position to win football games and develop this football program to be the best it can be. That’s what we’re doing.”