No QB controversy: Mullen always planned to play Jones, Richardson in 2021

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports
Emory Jones made his debut as Florida's starting quarterback Saturday against Florida Atlantic at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Dan Mullen tried to tell everyone — on multiple occasions.

During his opening statement at SEC Media Days, the fourth-year Florida coach first talked about his quarterback position. 

“We have a couple quarterbacks that have experience. I know Emory Jones coming back,” Mullen said, “and Anthony Richardson competing for that job with him.” 

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When UF opened preseason camp the following month, Mullen was asked about the mental challenge for Jones knowing that he’s going to be “the guy” this year? 

Mullen said he thought the team looked at Jones as “the guy who’s going to be the guy”, but noted, “he’s got to go win the job still.” 

On the first day of camp, he was also asked what benefits Richardson will get by watching Emory play. 

Mullen’s response was telling. 

“I think you’re going to see him on the field this year, I would imagine,” Mullen said of Richardson back on Aug. 5. “You know me, that’s part of the developmental process: getting him out there. He’s a weapon with the ball in his hand, both running and throwing within his growth and his development. He’s a guy coming in wanting to compete to be the starter.”

Mullen wasn’t done dropping hints. 

Following the Gators’ first scrimmage, Mullen brought up Richardson unprompted and raved about him. 

“Nobody asked about Anthony,” he said. “Anthony is doing an unbelievable job. Anthony had a huge night last night (Aug. 15). I don’t like to share information because you didn’t ask but … he had a huge night. Did really well, made a lot of great decisions. Very accurate. I think he threw three touchdown passes. Obviously is a dynamic runner as well.”

Saturday night, Gator Nation finally saw what Mullen has been telling everyone since the summer: Richardson is a weapon for him at quarterback and will play this season — a lot.  

“He’s going to be a great player for us, and I think you saw that tonight, his athleticism,” Mullen said of Richardson. “He’s a special guy with the ball in his hand.”

Gators quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) breaks loose for a long run for a touchdown Saturday against Florida Atlantic at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

But after Richardson ran wild against FAU, finishing six yards shy of Tim Tebow’s single-game school record (166 rushing yards), SEC Network analyst Cole Cubelic asked Mullen the question that was on the mind of every media member and Florida fan:

Do you have a decision to make on who your starting quarterback is?

“Emory’s our starting quarterback,” Mullen said without hesitation before looking baffled at Cubelic. “Why would you … OK.” 

That question followed him to his postgame news conference, where he was first asked about the quarterback situation. Mullen again stood firm behind Jones, who threw two interceptions and had a turnover on downs on fourth-and-goal. 

“Obviously Emory is our starter,” Mullen said, “but as you get the experience you roll the guys through. We did that tonight and it was great to see them both make some really explosive plays.”

Aside from his miscues and some missed reads, Jones played well for the most part Saturday. He moved the sticks seven times through the air, including strikes to Jacob Copeland (15 yards) and Trent Whittemore (18 yards), and had four first-down runs of 10 yards or more (long of 23). 

Just like his heads up on Richardson, Mullen warned in preseason camp of Jones’ potential for an up-and-down performance like he had in his starting debut. 

“He’s going to make some explosive plays out there. You want kind of efficiency and consistency all the time. That might not be his game every play,” Mullen said of Jones after the first scrimmage. “He’s going to miss some things here and there, but he’s going to make some explosive things on the other side of it, if that makes sense.” 

Mullen’s plan all along has been to play two quarterbacks in 2021, which is why there’s no QB controversy in Gainesville. He knew Jones was going to be inconsistent and Richardson would take off in the run game. 

However, Richardson isn’t ready to run the whole offense, Mullen said after the opener, and that’s the biggest advantage Jones has over him at this time. He’s the starter, but Richardson will continue to be used regularly and Mullen expects both to get better. 

“His decision-making and getting us through every part of the game,” Mullen said when asked why he’s confident in Jones. “Obviously, when you look at what happened with Anthony coming in, did some nice things. I mean, you know, you gotta run the whole offense. 

“And so, I think Anthony’s really growing with that and growing with situations. I think he’ll continue to grow with situations as we move forward and Emory’s going to continue to grow.” 

But at what point, Mullen was asked after the game, would he have to ask himself whether there was a QB convertoversy?