Rapid Reaction: Gators rout USF but questions remain as Bama looms
Emory Jones or Anthony Richardson? Anthony Richardson or Emory Jones? Who is the best answer at quarterback for Florida?
If they both keep playing the way they did for the first half on Saturday, the answer to that question might be, “Why not both?”
But the second half of Florida’s 42-20 victory at South Florida brought up some concerns that UF coach Dan Mullen and his staff will certainly address before next week’s SEC opener at home against Alabama.
Jones threw for a touchdown and ran for one, and Richardson hit receiver Jacob Copeland for two long first-half touchdown passes and ran for an 80-yard score in the fourth quarter at Raymond James Stadium. Richardson pulled up limping and grabbing his right leg at the end of that long run, causing another concern regarding the quarterback situation.
Richardson was simply electrifying in limited action. He completed all 3 of his throws for 152 yards, and ran 4 times for 115 yards. That’s 267 yards of total offense in 7 plays.
The Gators, ranked 13th in the Associated Press poll, piled up more than 600 yards of offense to win going away against a USF program that hasn’t beaten an FBS opponent since Oct. 26, 2019.
But USF, struggling on offense, got 10 gift points thanks to Jones throwing interceptions on consecutive drives in the third quarter.
Jones’ sideline throw was picked off by veteran Bulls safety Mekhi LaPointe, who returned it 49 yards to set up Spencer Shrader’s 32-yard field goal. On the next Gators drive, Jones had a lot of time to throw but missed his receiver and safety Brock Nichols intercepted it. That set up USF’s 5-play, 43-yard touchdown drive, capped by Jaren Mangham’s 1-yard run, to bring the Bulls within 35-13.
With Florida leading 35-3 at halftime, it wasn’t like the INTs endangered UF’s chances of winning. But they are mistakes that the Gators are unlikely to get away with against the Crimson Tide.
As Mullen said he planned, Richardson came in at quarterback for UF’s third offensive drive, replacing Jones. It took the freshman a single play to put the Gators ahead 14-3 in the first quarter. Richardson hit Copeland in single coverage and Copeland took it all the way for a 75-yard TD catch.
Dameon Pierce, the top rusher for Florida in 2020, got the Gators (2-0) on the scoreboard first with a 7-yard touchdown run. The senior running back showed great balance by shaking off a hit at the line of scrimmage and pushing back two defenders at the goal line. That capped a 63-yard drive in 4 plays, just 3:54 into the game.
On the following drive, the Bulls (0-2) had possession for 17 plays, ending a 75-yard march with Shrader’s 25-yard field goal. The drive gave a glimpse of what the USF offense is trying to look like with coach Jeff Scott and coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. — some up-tempo, a trick play here and there, and spreading the field.
Those 3 points were also the first of the season for USF. The Bulls were coming off of an opening 45-0 loss at North Carolina State on Sept. 2, in which USF was outgained 525-271.
The Gators already led 28-3 midway through the second quarter when preseason All-American cornerback Kaiir Elam intercepted USF quarterback Cade Fortin. That led to Jones’ 33-yard touchdown run and a 35-3 lead. Jones (6 feet 2, 211 pounds) and Richardson (6-4, 236) look different in their running styles but both are difficult to bring down when they pull the ball down and take off.
For their first road game of the season, the Gators made the 2-hour trek down Interstate 75 from Gainesville to Tampa to renew an old-school tradition. From 1968-74, UF played one home game in Tampa every season. The Gators played games in Tampa more sporadically well before then, and even afterward into the 1980s. That was well before the USF football program played its first game in 1997.