Abolverdi's Answers: Emory Jones saves Florida from another defensive debacle

Zach Abolverdi
Gator Sports

Before every Florida game, Sun college football beat writer Zach Abolverdi comes up with five pertinent questions and then answers them after the game. Here's Week 10 after the Gators' 70-52 win over Samford:

Will it be Emory Jones or Anthony Richardson starting at quarterback?

After a season-low 56.7 completion percentage at South Carolina, Emory Jones bounced back Saturday with a completion rate of 82.4 percent — one of several career-highs he set against Samford. Jones broke Tim Tebow’s school record for total offense with 550 yards (464 passing), tied the program record with seven total touchdowns and, most importantly, committed zero turnovers. He got the nod over Anthony Richardson, whose knee injury limited him in practice early in the week. Before checking in for Florida's final drive, Richardson lobbied for Jones to stay in the game so he could break UF’s single-game passing record (482 yards, Tebow). 

Does UF place an emphasis on the run, particularly with Dameon Pierce?

The Gators finally found their groove on the ground again following five consecutive games with less than 200 yards rushing, including a season-low 82 yards at South Carolina. Florida eclipsed 250 yards rushing (254) against Samford for the first time since the Tennessee game and tied its season-high with four rushing touchdowns, two by Dameon Pierce. He also caught a 13-yard touchdown pass and had 126 total yards, including 79 rushing yards on just seven carries. Jones led the Gators with 86 yards rushing, while Nay’Quan Wright finished with 100 total yards (47 rushing) and Malik Davis totaled 98 yards (33 rushing). 

Florida running back Dameon Pierce (27) scores a touchdown in the second half Saturday to make it 56-42 over Samford at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium.

How does Florida’s offensive line perform with a new position coach? 

After giving up just three sacks through the first half of the season, Florida had allowed six sacks in its last three games and offensive line coach John Hevesy was relieved of his duties last weekend. His interim replacement, graduate assistant Michael Sollenne, has been with the program since 2020 assisting with offensive line development. He did well in his coaching debut against Samford, with Florida’s offensive line allowing no sacks. The unit also paved the way for a big rushing performance from the Gators, who averaged 7.2 yards per carry. “He has a really good future,” coach Dan Mullen said of Sollenne. “I thought he did a really good job taking over.”

How is Christian Robinson’s debut as interim defensive coordinator?

If Christian Robinson could get his hands on a Neuralyzer from Men in Black, he might wipe Saturday from his memory. Robinson struggled mightily in his debut as a defensive play-caller, though Mullen and linebacker Mohamoud Diabate didn’t attribute Florida’s first-half debacle to Robinson’s inexperience. The opening drive looked like a fire drill on defense, the unit couldn’t make a third-down stop early on and Samford scored on five of its first six possessions. Quarterback Liam Welch torched the Gators with 400 passing yards and the Bulldogs had three wideouts with over 90 yards receiving, led by Montrell Washington (124 yards).

Samford has never scored against the Gators. Will the shutout continue?

LOL. In hindsight, it was naïve to think a defense that had allowed 123 points in three games could suddenly pitch a shutout, even with the step down in competition. I expected the Bulldogs to score a few times, not put more points against a Power-Five opponent than any FCS team in college football history. Samford scored 42 of its 52 points in the first half, the most points allowed by Florida in a half. The Gators cleaned up their penalties and tackling after the break and Robinson made some successful second-half adjustments, holding the Bulldogs to 10 points.

—  Zach Abolverdi is a staff writer for The Gainesville Sun. He can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @ZachAbolverdi

Up next

Who: Florida (5-5, 2-5 SEC) vs. Missouri (5-5, 2-4)

When: 4 p.m. Saturday

Where: Memorial Stadium/Faurot Field, Columbia, Mo.

TV: SEC Network

Radio: 103.7-FM, AM-850