How We Got Here
The quarterback position of the Florida Gators football team this year has been a hot topic among fans this season. So, how did we get here? Well, first, Gator Nation quietly heard the murmurs from Fall Camp that the offense flowed a little smoother in scrimmages with one quarterback, and somewhat lackluster with the other. Next, the season opened up against Florida Atlantic University with Emory Jones, presumed QB1, having some expected growing pains. Jones was fast to start in the contest, but had an otherwise underwhelming first career start. Late in the game, Anthony Richardson entered and immediately dashed for a 73-yard touchdown. In the waining seconds of the game, Richardson leaped over a defender with ease as a final bow in his brief introductory performance for the Gators.
The very next week, an explosion happens. Jones has another subpar performance against the University of South Florida, going 14-22 for 151-yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. Jones added 13 rushing attempts on the ground for 89-yards and one score. Meanwhile, Richardson goes nuts. The hometown, redshirt freshman was given seven total attempts, three passing and four rushing. In the air, he completes all three attempts for 152-yards and two scores. On the ground, Richardson totals 115 yards and one touchdown, capped off by 80-yard TD sprint in which Richardson pulls his hamstring while entering the end-zone.
Subsequently, Jones would go on to somewhat improve his play against Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky while Richardson nursed his hamstring injury. Florida would end the 3 game stretch with a 1-2 record, with Richardson receiving very limited play in odd situations, despite the offensive struggles endured primarily in the Kentucky game. The Vanderbilt game was an excellent performance by Jones, totaling 273-yards with 14-22 passing and 4 touchdowns. All career-highs for Jones. Richardson was just 4-6 for 25-yards and 1 interception. The Gators won 42-0.
Then, LSU happened. In short, the defense could not stop the LSU running attack. So, the Gators found themselves digging out of a hole from the jump. Jones' stats were not great, but not terrible. He went 12-19 for 161-yards with 1 touchdown on an end-of-the-half hailmary to Justin Shorter. However, two bad interceptions by Jones were quite costly. Richardson took full control of the offense after Jones' second interception was returned for a touchdown. Richardson ends up completing 10-19 passes for 167-yards and three touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing with seven attempts for 42-yards a one score. The Gators would lose their 3rd game of the season 42-49 on Richardson's second interception of the day.
What We Know
The synopsis above provides a brief look at what the season has looked like from a quarterbacking perspective. On one hand, Jones provides the Gators with a mobile quarterback who excels on the run, but is somewhat limited in all the other areas where the Gators need a playmaker. On the other hand, Richardson has proven he can do just about everything Jones can, and then some. If you are just looking at stats, Jones shows he is capable of being the starting quarterback for the Gators.
However, the offense has a drastically different feel when Richardson is at the helm. Even Dan Mullen knows this. One example is the route concepts the receivers run with each quarterback in the game. With Jones, the concepts are one-man, one-read concepts. In essence, Jones has one read, often a comeback route or crossing route, to complete the ball to. If the read is not there, he is likely being told to tuck and run. Conversely, Richardson is given several reads and the receivers are running a full spread-option route tree (the way the spread is designed essentially). In this concept, the receivers are running complementary routes that leave Richardson tasked with diagnosing the open man, or area, and delivering the pass.
Another illustration is simply the ball placement and delivery. Jones often delivers his passes to the receivers a touch under-thrown. Consequently, almost every pass he completes is a hitch route, for the receivers have to turn around and catch the ball. If you do not believe me, just watch the film. Ironically, it is not terrible quarterbacking, just a niche in his game that is present on every throw. On the opposite end of the spectrum, Richardson is capable of more high-level throws. He is able to throw his receivers open by anticipating when his receivers will break away from their defender. Otherwise known as, "throwing the receiver open". In addition, Richardson just delivers a more catchable ball on most occasions. The most glaring example of this is the touch pass he throws to Dameon Pierce for a touchdown against LSU. Richardson throws the ball up-and-above the linebackers outstretched hands, similar to the touch Kyle Trask delivered his passes with.
Lastly, Richardson displays more poised pocket confidence on passing downs. Jones is not unconfident; in fact, I am sure he is just as confident as Richardson in his ability to make plays. However, on film, Richardson is more focused on reading the field than Jones. Jones tends to limit his ability to make plays by entering failsafe mode and run if his primary read is covered. Again, not a bad thing, just part of his game. Richardson, instead, processes through all of his reads first before he decides to tuck and run.
Where Do We Go Now
For most Gator fans, and now national media pundits, the answer is to play Anthony Richardson more or even give him complete control of the offense. Well, the good news is Gator fans will find out what Richardson's role is going forward on Saturday against the University of Georgia.
The complexity of the situation is quite interesting, though. I truly believe Mullen knows what he has in Richardson, which is a generational talent who is still learning. But, Jones has his strengths as well, for he knows what Mullen expects of him and he delivers on that expectation, nothing more and nothing less. The comfort Mullen has in knowing what Jones can and cannot do is likely why Jones is still in the conversation. Mullen knows his comfort level in game-planning around Jones' abilities, just rewatch the Alabama game.
Well, that comfort surely ends with Georgia. Simply put, Mullen cannot and will not win this game without inserting Anthony Richardson a majority of the time. Emory Jones will not be able to run and make one read connections against this defense, as he did early in the season versus Alabama. Instead, Mullen has to employ the quarterback who can stretch the field and make Georgia defend the entire field, sideline-to-sideline.
That quarterback happens to be Anthony Richardson.