Gators notebook: Mullen plans to play both QBs vs. UGA, non-committal on who will start

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports

In his only media availability this week, Dan Mullen addressed Florida’s quarterback situation and the state of his defense Wednesday on the SEC coaches teleconference. 

Backup Anthony Richardson replaced starter Emory Jones in the second half of last Saturday’s 49-42 loss at LSU, where the Gators (4-3, 2-3 SEC) gave up 321 rushing yards and their most points allowed in the history of the rivalry. 

Mullen fielded a handful of QB questions from reporters, including whether Jones is still the starter. 

"Like everything, we’ll look at everything. We evaluate everything that we do all the time. Just like at every spot on the field,” Mullen said. “Both guys have played a bunch, they have experience. You have two guys that are a pretty good combination out on the field together."

Asked whether he’s reopening the competition between Jones and Richardson, Mullen indicated that he plans to continue playing both. 

"We're really fortunate. We have two really good quarterbacks here,” he said. “We've played them both in every game they’re been healthy. I see us continuing down that path."

Mullen was then asked point-blank if Jones will take the first snap against No. 1 Georgia (7-0, 5-0) on Oct. 30. 

“Well, I’m never going to get into the strategy of what we're going to do in the game,” Mullen said. “We played both quarterbacks in every game and I'm not really going to get into the strategy of when I'm going to play the different guys. I'm not going to tell you what the first play of the game is.

"I haven't set the script yet of what we’re going to call the first play of the game. We’ll look at that. We’ll get into the game plan. Like I said, I imagine we’ll continue, as long as everyone is healthy, we’ll play both quarterbacks during the course of the game. To be honest with you, we haven't gotten that far into game planning. You’re asking who’s going to play the first play of the game, right? I haven’t got to that part of who is going to play the first play of the game yet.”

Finally, Mullen was questioned on whether he’s comfortable turning the offense over to Richardson if Jones isn’t getting the job done. 

“You know what, I think he continues to improve,” Mullen said of Richardson. “I’ve seen improvement out of both guys throughout the course of the year, which is really something positive. What I like to see is, ‘Are we getting better as the year moves on? Are we better from one week to the next? Are you improving on things that you did poorly the previous week?' 

“I’ve seen that out of both quarterbacks, and I think that’s a real positive, that we’re headed in the right direction.” 

Georgia coach Kirby Smart said his staff won’t start preparation on the Gators until Thursday, but he will game plan for both quarterbacks and has familiarity with Jones and Richardson. 

“They have some similarities,” Smart said. “Obviously we’ve seen both those guys in terms of we recruited Anthony and know a lot about all the guys that have played there. Emory’s from our state and we’ve seen him play. So they got a really good football team and got a lot of respect for both those quarterbacks. We’ll have to have a plan for both.”

Mullen on defense, Grantham

Mullen was also pressed Wednesday about fourth-year defensive coordinator Todd Grantham.

Mullen said he hasn’t made any staff changes on defense after the unit’s pathetic performance at LSU. Tigers running back Tyrion Davis-Price set a single-game school record with 287 yards, the most ever allowed by the Gators in program history. 

“We got to do a better job closing gaps down, left a couple leaving too much space in there,” Mullen said of the run defense. “We have to be able to close that off on the defensive front, make sure we’re fitting things perfectly. And then make tackles. We had a bunch of missed tackles in the game, as well. A combination of different things we’re working on.”

With Grantham’s contract expiring in January, Mullen was asked whether he’s thought about his DC's future yet.

“We’re looking at getting ready to play Georgia, to be honest with you. That’s what we’re looking at right now,” Mullen said. “I haven’t looked at all our coaches’ contracts. I’m sure we have a bunch of contracts up at some point and that’s something that we look at kind of after the season when it’s more appropriate to do those things. 

“Right now, it’s really preparation and we’re getting ready in the bye week evaluating what we’ve done well, what we’ve done poorly and eliminate some of our inconsistencies and get a jump start on the game plan for the Georgia game and recruiting. We have some guys heading out recruiting this weekend.”

UF loses top-ranked commit 

Four days removed from visiting Georgia, Gators linebacker commit Shemar James backed off his pledge Wednesday. 

“This was a tough decision for me and my mom to make, but I will be decommitting from the University of Florida to open my recruitment back up,” James posted on Twitter. 

James was the highest-rated member in Florida’s 2022 recruiting class and the only top-100 overall recruit on the commitment visit. He joined the class back on June 20 following his official visit to UF. 

But the 6-foot-2, 212-pound James attended the Georgia-Kentucky game last Saturday, and the Bulldogs are now considered the team to beat. Alabama is also still pursuing James, who’s from Mobile, Ala.

With the loss of James, Florida’s 2022 class is now ranked No. 18 nationally with 14 verbal commitments. James is the second decommitment for the Gators this month (tight end CJ Hawkins) and the second top-100 pledge they’ve lost in this cycle (athlete Sam McCall).

Up next

Who: Florida (4-3, 2-3 SEC) vs. No. 1 Georgia (7-0, 5-0)

When: 3:30 p.m. Oct. 30

Where: TIAA Bank Field, Jacksonville