At halftime in Raymond James Stadium on Saturday, Florida led USF 35-3 and all seemed right with the Gators’ world, thanks to Emory Jones rebounding from a rocky start against FAU and Anthony Richardson continuing to supply more dynamite than the Acme Corporation ever did to Wile E. Coyote.
By the end of the game, mistakes by Jones had helped USF whittle that lead to a more respectable 42-20 final — and with Richardson providing the primary highlights of the second half, it seems like the Gators are once again in a quarterback quandary.
Jones threw for 151 yards and a touchdown — on a beautiful deep ball down the sideline to Xzavier Henderson — and ran for another 81 yards and a score, but did most of his damage before halftime. In the third quarter, he also threw two interceptions, one on a poor read that was read well and another on a late read and poor throw that was pounced on.
Both mistakes led to points for USF, though they merely shrank what was destined to be a lopsided margin of victory from very early on.
That was largely attributable to Jones having a much better start than he did against FAU — and Richardson, as has been his penchant, making big plays to change the numbers on the scoreboard all day.
He connected with Jacob Copeland on a play-action bomb for a 75-yard score on his first snap in the first quarter, and threw another TD to Copeland on the old rocker-step feint of a QB run to build what was a 35-3 lead with almost seven minutes left in the second period.
But halftime didn’t end his heroics. Richardson whirled away from pressure to throw an absolutely perfect pass to Copeland in the late third quarter, and ran through and away from Bulls defenders on an 80-yard touchdown run even more impressive than his 74-yard jaunt to paydirt a week ago — the latter happening despite pulling up lame just steps before the end zone with what appeared to be a right hamstring injury of some sort.
Richardson would not return after that fourth-quarter score, but his damage was extensive: 152 passing yards and two touchdowns on just three attempts, all completions to Copeland, and another 115 rushing yards on just four carries.
The tally on the ground gave Richardson his second straight 100-yard rushing game, making him author of a feat that even Tim Tebow couldn’t perform as a Gators QB.
And that explosiveness combined with Jones’s worrying inability to avoid costly mistakes has assuredly persuaded most Florida fans that Richardson should be starting over his older teammate — even with the teeth of Alabama’s ferocious defense up next.
That’s something Mullen, who reiterated that Jones remains Florida’s starting quarterback in postgame comments, has to be aware of going forward: The noise in the system, as Ron Zook legendarily dubbed the collective opinions of fans and observers, has already grown too loud for Mullen to ignore it.
Whether Jones can eliminate mistakes — and whether Florida can hang with Alabama, whatever Mullen decides in regards to his talented throwers — will determine whether that dull roar grows to a deafening din that drowns out all else about this season.