Billy Napier certainly knows much more about coaching quarterbacks and motivating players than some old, bald sportswriter who hasn’t played football since his glory days at Interlachen High School a hundred years ago.
But if I may make a suggestion to the Florida Gators first-year head coach, I think I might have a solution for how Napier can get his extraordinarily talented but massively struggling quarterback Anthony Richardson out of his two-game funk.
And the beauty of my idea is that it will only take about five seconds.
Here’s my recommendation: Just have Richardson watch the video clip of UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee hurdling and hurtling for a touchdown against FAU on Saturday night.
“There’s not a whole lot of thinking to it,” Plumlee said of his highlight-reel play afterward. “I don’t know why, but you go up and you land in the end zone. I told the guys, ‘Points are points. However you can get them, you get them.’”
The message is clear:
You do what you have to do to win games.
It was only a 5-yard run by Plumlee, but it personified the passion, the fearlessness, the fire and desire it takes to be a dual-threat quarterback in big-time college football.
Plumlee seemingly jumped 10 feet in the air, hurdled two would-be tacklers and executed an Elwayesque, Tebowian, McKenzie Milton-like flip into the end zone to put UCF ahead for good in the second quarter.
“Wow! Rhys Plumlee was amongst the clouds!” exclaimed CBS Sports Network broadcaster Chris Lewis of the daring end zone dive.
Added color commentator Danny Kanell, the former FSU quarterback: “If you want to hype up your offensive linemen and your teammates, you make a play like this. He decided, ‘I’m getting in the end zone no matter what.’”
Admitted UCF coach Gus Malzahn: “It scared me a little bit when he went flying up and he did a somersault. I hadn’t seen that many times. But that’s what he does. He has zero fear.”
It seems to me as though Richardson is playing with too much fear.
Fear of failing.
Fear of making a mistake.
Fear of running the football and possibly getting hurt.
Perhaps, too, Napier is contributing to this fear. The UF coach suggested earlier this week that the Gators’ lack of depth at quarterback has contributed to UF calling less running plays for Richardson. “Our situation at quarterback has something to do with that,” Napier admitted.
Coaching and playing scared is no way to compete in the SEC. Richardson has 13 carries for 28 yards in the last two games (a loss to Kentucky and a near-loss to USF) after running for 106 yards and 3 TDs on 11 carries in the season-opening upset of then No. 7-ranked Utah in the season opener.
“I guess I started holding myself back from running, and that’s a part of the offense that helps us move the ball,” Richardson admits. “So I guess I’ve just got to pick that up and bring that back.”
Stop playing passively.
Start playing passionately.
Play like Plumlee, who threw for 339 yards and ran 20 times for 121 yards and 2 TDs against FAU. It ’s not rocket science. A dual-threat QB’s willingness to run the ball opens up the passing lanes.
Let’s be honest, if Richardson isn’t a running threat then he’s just another quarterback. While he has great size and incredible arm strength, Richardson is an inexperienced quarterback who is not yet a precision passer or a dissector of defenses. Eventually, he may turn into an excellent pocket passer who only has to use his legs occasionally, but right now he is a liability as a pure passer.
Richardson, to his credit, blamed himself and his two crucial interceptions for the loss against Kentucky and seems to realize that two more bad interceptions against USF nearly cost the Gators another game.
Against Kentucky and USF, he completed just 24 of 53 (45.3%) passes for 255 yards, no touchdowns and 4 picks. Here’s all you need to know about Richardson’s struggles in the passing game: He has more tackles this season (3) than touchdown passes (0).
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It’s time for Napier to quit playing it safe and unleash the true Anthony Richardson, who wears No. 15 for a reason. It’s because he grew up idolizing UF legend Tim Tebow. Perhaps it’s time for Richardson to actually channel his inner Tebow and become the fierce, determined, raging runner who will not be denied.
Before the season and after the season opener against Utah, Richardson, because of his size, speed and running ability, also was being compared to former Auburn Heisman Trophy winner Cam Newton. Well, Cam ran for 1,473 yards and 20 TDs in 2010 when he led Auburn to the national title and also threw for 2,854 yards and 30 TDs.
I’m not saying Richardson needs to be as great as Newton or Tebow — two of the most iconic college quarterbacks of all-time.
Here’s all I’m saying:
Just watch the video.
And play like Plumlee.
Email me at [email protected]. Hit me up on Twitter @BianchiWrites and listen to my Open Mike radio show every weekday from 6 to 9 a.m. on FM 96.9 and AM 740.