QB changes possible for Georgia, Florida in Cocktail Party

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Dan Mullen has fielded quarterback questions all season: Emory Jones? Anthony Richardson? Why Jones? Why not Richardson?

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.

Bulldogs coach Kirby Smart insisted Monday he doesn’t know whether Stetson Bennett or JT Daniels will start.

“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.”

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.