Emory Jones is the Gators' starting quarterback. Here's how Florida's offense will evolve

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports

Florida has a new QB1 in Emory Jones, but the redshirt junior isn’t new to this offense or its returning starters. 

Jacob Copeland, Dameon Pierce and more than a dozen others have played in multiple games with Jones behind center for the Gators. And like opposing defenses, they had to be aware of when he checked in. 

“I look up and I’m like, 'Damn, Emory in the game now.' You know, we gotta be on point,” Copeland said. “You never know what he's going to do.” 

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That unknown is what UF coach Dan Mullen and his offensive staff hope to capitalize on with Jones now at quarterback. When Kyle Trask was the starter, well, you knew what he was going to do. 

And most of the time, he was throwing to the Mackey Award winner. 

“Why wouldn’t you throw to the No. 1 tight end in the world in Kyle Pitts? He’s an obvious mismatch,” Pierce said. “Then you have a great quarterback in Kyle who can find the open spot, read defenses very well. So if we’re moving the ball more efficiently throwing it, why run and not be as efficient on offense?”

Nation's top passing attack with Kyle Trask

The Gators had the No. 1 passing attack in the country last season behind the  Kyle-to-Kyle connection and the tandem of Kadarius Toney and Trevon Grimes, while their running game ranked 96th nationally. 

However, Florida’s top two backs — Pierce (503 yards) and Malik Davis (310 yards) — both averaged 4.7 yards per rush, and Jones averaged 6.8 yards on his 32 carries (217 yards). 

“When you look back efficiently we did run the ball fairly well, we just decided not to do that. We just decided to throw it offensively,” Mullen said. “We have a decent quarterback run package that we were kind of very conservative with Kyle Trask, you know? … You look at guys like Emory and Anthony (Richardson) with cannon arms, their ability to improvise and extend plays. All of a sudden the field is spread.

“I think we saw even a couple glimpses of it in the bowl game. The field’s spread out and someone loses a rush lane. That turns into a 20-, 30-, 40-yard play with those guys on the field. With Kyle, it might not have been. They bring a very different skillset to the table.”

Mullen notes that his offensive system has the flexibility to throw for 400 yards a game like last season, be 50-50 balanced or control the clock with a run-oriented attack. Dual-threat quarterbacks such as Tim Tebow and Dak Prescott have been the hallmark of some of Mullen’s best offenses, and he’ll be able to dust off that section of his playbook with Jones and Richardson. 

“We go back to some different schemes to utilize those guy's strengths,” Mullen said. “Our job is to kind of manipulate around the strengths of what those guys are going to do well within quarterback runs, zone reads, the ability for them to scramble and improvise and even be more complex in the pass game. You’re multidimensional because of some of the threats they pose to the defense.”

Lots of options for Gators' offensive run game

With Florida’s bevy of backs and signal callers who can run, Pierce expects this year’s offense to include some packages from 2018. The Gators leaned on their backfield of Jordan Scarlett and Lamical Perine that season, while also using Feleipe Franks more frequently on the ground than Trask. 

“Feleipe was kind of in that gray area where he could throw the ball and run the ball,” Pierce said. “Obviously, it's two different offenses with Kyle Trask and Emory Jones. One uses the zone-read with the quarterback, and with Kyle you're more pass-heavy. But with Emory, you open up the offense more.

“We can run anything in the offense with him. He can throw the deep balls, he can throw the short, intermediate passes, he can pull the ball and run in open space. When worst comes to worst, he can make a play with his feet. If the secondary locks up our receivers, he can scramble and go get the first.”

Florida Gators receiver Jacob Copeland (15) flips the ball to a referee after catching a touchdown pass during a game against the LSU Tigers at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium in Gainesville, Fla. Dec. 12, 2020.

Copeland adds that while Jones will help improve Florida’s running game, don’t sleep on his arm. 

“Emory can not only run, but throw the ball on the run. We see it all the time,” Copeland said. “Some people be saying he can't throw, but Emory is legit. He really like that. He just hasn't had his chance yet.”

When asked Monday about Jones' passing ability being questioned, Mullen said he hadn't heard that and dismissed the notion his QB can't throw. 

"He's got a cannon for an arm, so I don't know who would say that. I guess maybe there's somebody out watching practice that's more expertise at quarterback than me," Mullen quipped. "I'm pretty confident in what he can do.

"It does depend on a surrounding cast, too. There's certainly something to the guys that surround him of what we're going to ask him to do. We're going to play to the strengths of the quarterback, we're also going to play to the strengths of all the players around him as well."

Florida's running back rotation is now five deep with the addition of five-star transfer Demarkcus Bowman, while the offensive line returns three starters and a pair of players with game experience in Josh Braun and Ethan White. 

The receiving corps lost a lot of firepower from last year, but still features multiple top-100 recruits in Copeland, Justin Shorter, Xzavier Henderson and tight end Keon Zipperer. 

"I really am excited about Emory, I’m excited about Anthony, I’m excited about this offense and where it can go," tight ends coach Tim Brewster said. "There’s nobody in the country that does a better job than Dan Mullen at matching what we’re going to do schematically offensively to the strengths of our offensive players. ... Obviously those two quarterbacks that we have, they’re amazingly athletic guys. Their ability to pull it and make plays off schedule is going to be huge. They’re going to create explosive plays. Both of them are outstanding passers and I think that we’ve got weapons.

"Billy Gonzales does an amazing job coaching the wideouts. Those wideouts are going to be ready to be playmakers. My challenge is to get the tight ends (going). I think we’ve got a veteran, experienced offensive line, John Hevesy with that group. And I just think that we have a chance to really just be different maybe a little bit offensively, but still being as powerful and as explosive as we were last year."