If he’s frustrated by the weekly inquiries, Mullen hasn’t shown it. He did, however, offer a possible glimpse as the Gators returned from a bye week and began preparations to play top-ranked Georgia in their annual rivalry game known as “The World’s Largest Outdoor Cocktail Party.”
“Have they named a starting quarterback?” Mullen said on Monday. “That’s their No. 1 deal, right, who their starter is? Much bigger than ours. They’re the No. 1 team. So I’m shocked how anybody’s even looking at our situation.”
Both teams’ unsettled QB situations are sure to be one of the main storylines as the Bulldogs (7-0, 5-0 Southeastern Conference) and the Gators (4-3, 2-3) square off in Jacksonville for the 86th time in the last 89 years. Georgia is a 14 1/2-point favorite, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.
“It’s going to be based on practice,” Smart said. “No decision has been made whatsoever.”
Bennett started the last three games in place of Daniels, who is recovering from a strained lat. Bennett, who also started the second game of the season against UAB while Daniels was sidelined with an oblique injury, leads the SEC with a 210.93 passing efficiency rate.
Sticking with Bennett would be the conservative approach. The fifth-year senior hasn’t completed more than 14 passes in any start this season – mostly out of necessity – but he also has 10 touchdown passes and no turnovers in those games.
Smart went with Bennett last year against Florida, and Bennett had a miserable game. He was 5-of-16 passing for 78 yards, with a touchdown, an interception and a shoulder injury. D'Wan Mathis came off the bench and was even worse, throwing for 34 yards and two interceptions and getting sacked three times.
Smart switched to Daniels the following week. The former USC transfer is 7-0 since. But Smart hasn’t seen enough this week to make a call on Daniels’ availability against the Gators.
“He was able to throw without pain. That’s step one,” Smart said. “The next step is, `Can I move? Can I throw with accuracy? Can I do all the things that are required to play quarterback?’ I don’t know if he can do those things yet. We will see be how we practice this week.”
Mullen has been equally non-committal about his quarterbacks. Jones has started every game this season, but he was benched after his second interception in a 49-42 loss at LSU on Oct. 16.
A bye week provided Mullen a chance to reevaluate his offense and move forward with Richardson, a redshirt freshman and a Gainesville native who, at the very least, looks like the team’s QB of the future.
“We’re going to keep playing them the same way,” Mullen said. “We plan on playing both of the guys like we have.”
Jones has completed 67.6% of his passes for 1,305 yards, with 10 touchdowns and a league-leading nine interceptions. Richardson has provided more dynamic plays off the bench, the kind many outsiders think could make a difference against Georgia’s vaunted defense.
Richardson has thrown for 392 yards, with five TDs and three INTs. He also has 348 yards rushing and three scores.
“I think people get so caught up in the starter,” Mullen said. “I don’t get as caught up because … I haven’t decided on what play I’m going to run on the first play of the game yet.
“Hey, we might come out in the wishbone. All three tailbacks then started (and) no receiver started. All of a sudden that becomes a weird deal, right? Even if we ran that for one play, that defines then who the starter was. So I don’t get caught up in all that stuff – the starting the game. A good question everybody should do is who finishes the game.”
Whoever starts might not be the closer at the end.
“Who finishes the game?” Mullen said. “That’ll be a really big deal. I talk a lot about that. That’s always a key, should be a key stat, too, is how many games you finish, not just how many you start.”