Whitley: There's no way to spin it, UF has a 'QB controversy'

David Whitley
The Gainesville Sun

Whether it was spontaneous or contrived, Dan Mullen got a flummoxed look on his face when the No. 1 topic on everyone’s mind came up right after Florida beat FAU.

Quarterback controversy? What quarterback controversy?

“They’re not very controversial guys,” Mullen said. “They’re really nice guys.”

By all accounts, Emory Jones and Anthony Richardson are indeed splendid fellows. But that doesn’t change the eternal football equation that A + B = C.

A is having two relatively equal players. B is those players are quarterbacks. C is c-c-c-controversy.

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Put them together, and you have the phrase coaches hate worse than, “The NCAA is calling on Line 1.” But by all football definitions, the Gators have a “Quarterback Controversy.”

For brevity’s sake, let’s just call it QBC. Not to be confused with QVC, where you can never find a good SEC quarterback on clearance.

Jones admits he was not as sharp in his starting debut as everybody at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium hoped. His understudy came in and wowed the crowd with his hurdling ability and breakaway runs.

Jones has been around long enough to know what that meant — QBC.

“That’s expected,” he said. “(Richardson) went out there and did his thing. He played good. I’m happy for him.”

The funny thing is, Jeremiah Moon came off the bench and had a stellar effort at the Buck position, but you don’t hear much about him replacing Brenton Cox Jr. And we’ve barely heard a peep about whether Chris Howard or Jace Christmann should be the No. 1 kicker.

Has anyone ever even heard of a “Left Guard Controversy”?

The football vocabulary limits “controversy” to one position. That doubtless seems unfair to the starting safety who gets replaced by the coach’s one-legged nephew. But if he wanted the world to notice, he should have become a quarterback.

The position has outsized importance, so it gets outsized scrutiny. A lineman can get away with a blown blocking assignment, but everybody can see when the quarterback messes up.

Every person at the bar can have a semi-informed opinion about the quarterback. And conflicting opinions make for stimulating conversation.

That’s why Chicago’s been consumed by the Justin Fields-Andy Dalton QBC. New Englanders spent their summer obsessing over Mac Jones or Cam Newton.

Fans and media love to talk about QBCs as much as coaches hate them. I took a load of yard trash to the county dump Tuesday, and the two guys working there were debating Jones vs. Richardson.

I did not run into Mullen there, but he’d probably rolled his eyes at the discussion. In his mind, there’s nothing “controversial” about the Gators’ QBC.

For one thing, the two supposed rivals aren’t going to provide any tabloid headlines. Richardson’s been retweeting stories about Jones deserving to be the starter.

“Stay tuned and watch my guy work!” he wrote.

Mutual admiration society aside, Jones has a better grasp of the offense. And he’s been around long enough to know what he’s doing wrong.

Mullen thinks Jones played pretty well overall, but there were some rushed bad reads and inaccurate throws. The big question is whether those were first-game glitches or they’re ongoing problems.

“You can’t change how you played last week. It is what it is,” Mullen said. “What do you learn from it moving on?”

As for sharing QB duties, optimists can hearken back to Noah Brindise and Doug Johnson alternating plays in 1997, or Tim Tebow subbing for Chris Leak in 2007. Those were different situations.

A clear No. 1 makes life easier for everyone. The 2021 plan was always for the redshirt freshman to get a lot of snaps, but the redshirt junior would be the starter.

Now the image of Richardson hurdling that would-be FAU tackler is seared into fans’ minds. It’s easy to forget he was also 3-for-8 passing.

Overreacting is another QBC feature. Cris Collinsworth threw a 99-yard touchdown pass in his first game for Florida. Nobody suspected then that he’d end up being a much better receiver than quarterback.

For now, Jones has earned the top spot. His maturity and knowledge of the playbook gives the Gators the best chance to succeed.

 But don’t be thrown off by the look on Mullen’s face. He knows a QBC is what it is.

And if Jones doesn’t improve in a hurry, this one has only just begun.

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