Gators notebook: Richardson's status ahead of schedule, Mullen says

Graham Hall
Special to The Sun
Florida quarterback Anthony Richardson (15) walks off the field at halftime Saturday against Alabama at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

Florida head football coach Dan Mullen reiterated Monday that quarterback Anthony Richardson is ahead of schedule when it comes to the redshirt freshman’s recovery from the right hamstring injury he suffered Sept. 11 in UF’s 42-20 victory over USF. 

Although he was medically cleared to play, Richardson didn’t see the field in UF’s 31-29 loss to No. 1 Alabama, and Mullen said his status for Florida’s 7 p.m. kick-off with SEC Eastern division rival Tennessee will be based on how he fares this week in practice, meaning it’s not a foregone conclusion the former Eastside High star will return to the field Saturday. 

“Yeah, we're going to test everything out again this week,” Mullen said. “You know, through the week, (it will) be a very similar approach, he'll probably do a little bit more in practice.”

Mullen said Richardson did participate in each practice session prior to Florida’s contest with the Crimson Tide, though he didn’t take significant reps in the build-up; the majority of Richardson’s time was spent recuperating, considering the injury is one that could develop into a long-term issue if not given proper time to heal, or if Richardson were to be re-injured during the recovery process. 

“He practiced all (last) week, and that's what gets into it. Like, he was cleared to play in the game but there's a big difference between, 'I'm cleared to play in the game, I'm not going to be 100% but I can't make the injury worse,' and, 'I'm cleared to play in the game, I'm not 100%, and this one to two-week injury could turn into a six-week injury,' and those are always big differences,” Mullen said. “We'll see how he responds this week, and hopefully, with the type of, when you're looking at a hamstring issue, we did an MRI on Friday, it came back much better than we thought it would be. But, not still at 100%. So we wanted to be pretty precautious in meeting with the medical staff. 

“There was a pretty solid feeling — if he didn't play in the game, we would continue (rehabbing),  we're ahead of where we were, that he would be 100% by this Saturday."

Gator Nation impact was clear, needs to be consistent

Having witnessed the effect of the fifth-largest crowd in the history of Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, Mullen advocated for fans to return in droves for the contest with the Volunteers, saying the impact on the opposition is undeniable. 

“Quick turnaround, huge rivalry game against Tennessee coming up this weekend here at The Swamp. When you go into a big games like (against Alabama), you come out with the physical wear and tear, and the mental wear and tear, of a big game,” Mullen said. “But we’ve got to turn that around quickly for even a bigger game this week. All the Gator fans need to go maybe get some warm tea and lemon, make sure their throats are refreshed, because we need an even more raucous environment this Saturday night to continue to give the home-field advantage. I think you saw the effect that had on the game last week and how it lifted our team up, and we need the Gator Nation back out to show out this week.”

The roar of the Florida crowd against it, Alabama committed 11 penalties Saturday, with seven coming on the offensive end as the noise peaked. For context, the Gators haven’t committed more than 10 penalties in 35 consecutive games and counting. 

If that’s what it takes to improve Florida’s odds at home each week, Mullen said he’ll “put on his marketing hat” and get creative when it comes to luring fans to the stands. 

“Obviously, last Saturday was a crazy environment. We (need to) keep that going. It does nothing but help – helps the current team, helps the program long-term, and I certainly hope everybody enjoys being in there and feeling that energy and excitement and being a part of that game-day environment,” Mullen said. “I’ll sing. If they want to give me a mic pregame, I'll go sing or do a little dance routine. Whatever we need. If it'll help people come, I'll do what we need.”

Seniority doesn’t always rule

Much has been made of the success of Florida’s rushing attack through three games this season, and rightfully so. The Gators are second in the nation in rushing with 336 yards per game average, having just gashed the Crimson Tide’s defense for 258 on the ground, statistics only made more impressive when considering Florida’s lack of explosion in the run game for much of the last two seasons. 

But with five capable running backs available — and eager to participate — someone is bound to be left disappointed, if not downright left out entirely. 

For Florida, that someone is Lorenzo Lingard Jr., a former five-star prospect.

The Miami transfer didn’t see any snaps at running back against the Crimson Tide, though he wasn’t alone as former Clemson transfer Demarkcus Bowman didn’t register any statistics either that game.

Though they may often be grouped together, seeing as they’re both transfers, Bowman and Lingard are in far different situations. The former is a redshirt freshman with at least three years of playing time remaining, while the latter is a redshirt junior with one year left after the 2021 campaign.

Lingard, who has been open with both his goals and his frustrations on his Twitter account, expressed both sentiments roughly an hour after the conclusion of Florida’s loss to the Crimson Tide. 

“Practice so hard, work so hard, 3 years later ... when is it gonna come through,” wrote Lingard. “I’m not waiting no longer for anybody…”

Lingard, the oldest running back in the room at 22, later deleted his tweet, though not before it was picked up by fans and media members alike. 

Mullen was asked about Lingard’s role. He chalked it up to Lingard's competitive nature, while adding the season is in its infancy and Lingard’s role may expand as the season progresses.

"Yeah, the guys want to play and guys are competitive and want to get on the field. I think guys, at different positions, as I said, it's a long season, there's a lot of opportunities. We talked about that with guys.”

Mullen compared Lingard’s situation to that of Florida’s reserve tight ends in 2020, Kemore Gamble and Keon Zipperer, two upperclassmen now playing significant roles on offense this season.

At the time, Gamble had seniority in the room, but he often didn’t see significant playing time with future first-round pick Kyle Pitts commanding the majority of the reps. As many remember, Pitts suffered a helmet-to-helmet hit in Florida’s victory over Georgia, leading him to miss the remainder of the contest and the ensuing two games, which cleared the way for Gamble and Zipperer to display their talents.  The 6-foot-4 Gamble would go on to record six receptions for 117 yards and three touchdowns, while Zipperer would record a pair of touchdowns against Arkansas the following week. The mid-season playing time clearly set both players up for a larger role in 2021, and both Gamble and Zipperer head into the match-up with the Volunteers having hauled in passes the week prior after not recording a catch in UF’s first two contests. 

The message for Lingard is the same as it is for Gamble and Zipperer: patience. 

“One of the interesting ones, and if you looked, our first two games, I don't think our tight ends had any catches, and they had a bunch on Saturday. So, within how the game plan works from week to week, how we want to attack a team, what they're giving us, I think there's ebbs and flows in that,” Mullen said. “Last year we had Kyle Pitts here, and there were games where he would come in and know 'I might not have many catches or touches this game because how they're going to try to eliminate me from the game, but that's going to open up a lot of other things' – you've got to have that understanding, that maturity that, 'Hey, through the course of the season I'm going to have all my opportunities to make plays."

Night kickoff on Bluegrass

The kickoff time and TV network for the Oct. 2 game between Florida at Kentucky will depend on this Saturday’s games, the Southeastern Conference announced Monday.

The game will either take place at 6 p.m. on ESPN or 7 p.m. on the SEC Network.