A more prepared Jones plays looser, builds confidence in first SEC start
Florida quarterback Emory Jones found his comfort zone against No. 1 Alabama after some shaky performances in his first two starts.
Jones looked more like himself Saturday despite playing a much tougher opponent, according to UF coach Dan Mullen.
“You’re playing Alabama’s defense and you’re kind of relaxed and comfortable … it was really interesting,” Mullen said of Jones. “He kind of played tight I thought in the first two games a little bit. And then we go play Alabama and he's kind of what we expected him to look like. He’s kind of relaxed out there making the plays that we've seen him make all during training camp.
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“A guy that kind of makes the right plays, makes the right check, usually getting the ball to the right read and making pretty good decisions in the run game and then using his athletic ability to improvise and make some things happen on top of that. That's what we've seen a whole bunch of. Hopefully it makes him relax and play that way consistently now.”
Which begs the question, how did Jones look more comfortable against the Tide than FAU and USF?
One theory is that Jones played better because he wasn’t looking over his shoulder. There was no two-quarterback rotation with Anthony Richardson (hamstring) out, so Jones had the whole game to himself.
While Jones admitted it was easier to get into a groove Saturday without the rotation, he doesn’t think that splitting snaps had been an issue for him.
“I’ve been rotating with guys for my whole time being here,” he said.
Instead, Jones felt his lack of preparation held him back in the first two games.
“I'd say preparation,” Jones said when asked how he played better vs. Bama. “That’s what I learned from the first two games — that I had to do more preparation-wise, and I feel like I did for that (Alabama) game. But we still fell short, so I feel like I have to do more.
“I definitely learned that the first couple games, and I’m still learning every game that I play. Just basically, the grind and the mental effort that you have to put in to get it done at the quarterback position. The preparation and the attention to detail that you have to be aware of every single play.”
It’s been an adjustment period for Jones, but Mullen is hopeful that his increased preparation and improved performance last week bodes well for his long-term development.
“We’ll see. I think for him, hopefully it does lead to maybe a comfort level. Knowing that, hey, ‘I’m fine. I've got a couple games under my belt.’ He can be a little more relaxed and go make plays out there on the field,” Mullen said. “I do think when you get into that role of being the starter, it’s not just, ‘Hey, OK, I’m just coming in there and here are my plays. I’m really comfortable with these.’
“It’s the weight of the entire game plan, the weight of the leadership of the team and how the team expects you to lead them. There’s a lot that goes with that. And then you get in there, and you want to do things right. With Emory, he understands that from watching the guys before him.”
Jones set career highs against Alabama in pass attempts (28), completions (18) and passing yards (195), eclipsing 1,000 career passing yards. He also rushed for 77 yards on a career-high 19 carries, including his five-yard touchdown run on Florida's 99-yard scoring drive.
More importantly, Jones rebounded from an early interception and rallied the Gators from a 21-3 first-quarter deficit.
“For me personally, it was kind of a confidence-builder,” Jones said of his performance. “I always knew I was a guy that could come back from adversity. I threw a pick early on in the game. I didn’t really get down on it.
“I just tried to keep the team going and get us back in the game. So, I wouldn’t just say me, but as a team, we learned just how much fight we have and we got a lot of confidence from that game. So, we’re just going to try to move on from that loss and move forward to the next game.”
Who: Tennessee (2-1) vs. No. 11 Florida (2-1, 0-1 SEC)
When: 7 p.m.ay
Where: Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium
Radio: AM-850, 103.7-FM