Jones well-versed in Mullen's system ahead of first career start
When Emory Jones takes the field Saturday for Florida’s season opener, he will become the first Dan Mullen quarterback recruit to make his first career start as a redshirt junior.
Former Gator Tim Tebow took the reins in 2007 as a true sophomore when Mullen was his offensive coordinator. His last three quarterbacks at Mississippi State — Nick Fitzgerald (2016), Dak Prescott (2013) and Tyler Russell (2011) — all made their first starts as redshirt sophomores.
MSU’s Chris Relf (2010) and UF’s Kyle Trask (2019) both became Mullen’s starting QBs as redshirt juniors, but neither spent the first two years in college with him.
Jones, however, has been developing under Mullen since he enrolled early in 2018 and now enters his fourth season in the offense.
“I think he understands it,” Mullen said of Jones. “You look at his playing time and experience throughout the years. I guess as everybody says this will be his first time playing the first play of the game. But to say he hasn’t played in a lot of big moments in a lot of different games, big difference.
“If you go back to his freshman year, playing against Georgia, playing against Michigan, and he's been on the field in those games. So I think he's ready for that moment, to be out there on the field and go make plays. … We’ve put him out there to run specific plays, but there’s times we've just left him out there to keep running the plays. So that’s why I think he's going to be comfortable with what we have going on.”
Jones has thrown for 613 yards with seven touchdowns and one interception on 55-of-86 passing (64 percent) in his UF career, while rushing for 514 yards and six touchdowns on 92 carries.
He’s been efficient and productive in a limited capacity, accounting for over 1,110 yards of total offense. Mullen is confident Jones can handle more of the playbook and will give him the freedom to make his own calls.
“We put it all in on him,” Mullen said. “It’s not like he's a freshman or hasn't been around. That’s part of the experience. He’s played meaningful snaps in each of the last couple seasons. He’s a guy that I feel pretty comfortable (with). We’ll just throw the whole thing out of him and let him go.
“I think he knows he has the ability (to audible) if he sees something that he likes or that’s different that we weren't planning for. A lot of times you get into a game, especially one that you don’t have much film to go watch, you have to be very flexible during the course of the game. He’s a guy I have the confidence in that if he sees something, he can check to it and go take what he sees.”
Mullen mentioned during preseason camp that Jones, due to his dual-threat ability, executes calls differently than Trask. Sometimes Jones will take chances that Trask didn’t and miss, but when he hits, the result is often an explosive play.
“He has so many different ways that he can make explosive plays that, you know, you’re going to live with certain things,” Mullen said of Jones. “Kyle was really efficient throwing the ball, managed the offense pretty well. There’ll be some times Emory will probably take some shots, whether it's trying to extend the play scrambling. You’re OK with it because he can make something dynamic happen out there on the field.
“You just gotta be patient with that as a coach instead of just saying, ‘Hey, just take three steps, check it down right now and let’s play the next play, get the next read and keep moving.’ He needs to do some of that. But there’s other times you're saying, ‘OK, hey, let it develop and see what you can create on your own, to allow explosive plays to happen.’ And it’s just kind of gotta be a belief in what you do and how you manage the game.”
Who: Florida Atlantic vs. No. 11 Florida
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
TV: SEC Network
Radio: AM-850, 98.1-FM, 103.7-FM