Whitley: It's time to pull the trigger and start AR-15

David Whitley
Gator Sports
Florida quarterback Emory Jones rushes for a touchdown during the second quarter Saturday against the South Florida Bulls at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa.

TAMPA — There is only one obvious reason why Anthony Richardson should not be Florida’s starting quarterback. He grabbed it as he crossed the goal line after an 80-yard touchdown run.

Richardson’s right hamstring “tightened up,” according to Dan Mullen.

That’s all we know for now about the injury, and further details may remain a state secret until this coming Saturday afternoon. But if the hamstring is OK, there shouldn’t be any doubt he should take the first snap against Alabama.

There shouldn’t be, but there is.

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To Mullen’s way of thinking, Emory Jones is still the starter. And Mullen’s way of thinking is the only way that counts.

I’ll admit he knows about 1,000 times more about quarterbacking than I do. And Mullen will admit he knows about 10,000 times more than all the fans who are clamoring for No. 15 to start.

That said, what’s Florida’s coach seeing that all of us pseudo-experts aren’t?

Richardson is starting to make the spectacular look routine. Last week against FAU, he hurdled would-be tacklers and had a 75-yard TD run.

In Saturday’s 42-20 win over USF, Richardson threw a 75-yard touchdown and ran one in from 80 yards out. He’s the first UF quarterback with more than 100 yards passing and 100 yards rushing in a game since Tim Tebow did it 2009.

“He does special things,” Mullen said. “Doesn’t always do the right thing, but he does special things.”

Sure, he’s just a redshirt freshman and is prone to mistakes. It’s not clear he has a good grasp of the entire offense and or has been fully programmed to make the right reads.

What is clear is that Jones isn’t exactly doing a Tom Brady impression in 2021. He tried to be too perfect in his first start last week, and said he was more relaxed Saturday.

It showed at times, like when he saw one-on-one coverage and threw a perfect 35-yard TD pass to Xzavier Henderson. He also had a 33-yard TD scamper and looked like the Emory Jones Florida fans had hoped to see emerge against the Bulls.

Then came the second half.

It began with an interception that was almost returned for a touchdown.

“It was a bad read,” Jones said.

On the Gators’ next possession, Trent Whittemore was running free but Jones waited too long to deliver the pass. Hello, interception No. 2.

“That was a terrible decision,” Jones said.

That one prompted an impromptu and animated coaching clinic from Mullen when Jones got to the sideline. In the meantime, Richardson was doing what Richardson does.

On one play, he was forced out of the pocket, rolled left, planted his feet and delivered a perfect 41-yard pass just as he was getting plastered by a USF lineman. It wasn’t Richardson’s most spectacular play, but it showed how he’s figuring things out.

 His helmet came off on the play, so Jones had to go in. He proceeded to almost throw his third interception in the end zone.

The prompted a chorus of boos from the Raymond James Stadium crowd, which was about 75% Florida fans. If you took a poll, I suspect that’s at least how the percentage of fans who want AR-15 to be the starter.

Not that they needed any more convincing, but they got it on that 80-yard run. Richardson read the defense, bowled over a poor USF defensive back and flat outran everybody to the end zone.

 He hobbled to the sideline, got an icepack on his leg and sat out the rest of the game. The injury was the first question Mullen was asked afterward. Then he was asked if Jones was still the starter.

“Yes,” he said, choking back a laugh. “Why don’t you guys ask who the starting running back is?”

There are a few reasons, not the least of which is UF has always planned on using a lot of running backs. It also planned on using both Jones and Richardson.

What Mullen needed to see Saturday was improvement from both. The game especially needed to be a confidence-builder for Jones.

“I made some bad decisions,” he said. “I’m just going to grow from it again and try to get better.”

 That’s apparently going to take more time than Gator Nation hoped. And time grows short.

If he struggled against FAU and USF, what kind of problems will Nick Saban have in store for him?

“My responsibility is to put the team in a position to win,” Mullen said. “And there’s a lot that goes into that.”

More than most fans know. But if the Gators are going to have a prayer against Alabama, Richardson sure looks more capable of delivering it.

— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley