The Florida Gators have two quarterbacks. FSU football doesn’t have one.

Kyle Trask and Emory Jones are thriving at Florida, while Willie Taggart is being tight-lipped at Florida State.
Florida quarterback Emory Jones (5) throws a pass against Auburn on Oct. 5 in Gainesville. John Raoux  |  AP
Florida quarterback Emory Jones (5) throws a pass against Auburn on Oct. 5 in Gainesville. John Raoux | AP
Published October 18

You know the old football saying that if you’ve got two quarterbacks, you don’t have one?

Well Florida’s got two. And the Florida State Seminoles don’t have one.

That difference alone isn’t enough to explain why Dan Mullen’s 6-1 Gators are SEC East contenders heading to South Carolina while the embattled Willie Taggart is 3-3 before traveling to Wake Forest. But it’s a telling distinction between the health of the two programs midway through each coach’s second year.

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There is no uncertainty at No. 9 Florida. Kyle Trask will start, and Emory Jones will take meaningful snaps, just as they’ve done in each of the past four games.

That has been the plan ever since starter Feleipe Franks fractured/dislocated his ankle at Kentucky on Sept. 14. In the days afterward, Mullen was educating Trask and Jones on what Chris Leak and Tim Tebow did during UF’s 2006 title run.

“He just talked about, like, that duo and how it was for them and how we can do something similar to that,” Jones said this week.

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A national championship might be a stretch for these Gators, but Jones and Trask have a realistic chance of leading UF to the SEC title game.

The duo works because their skills are complementary.

Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) throws a pass against Auburn during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) John Raoux  |  AP
Florida quarterback Kyle Trask (11) throws a pass against Auburn during the second half of an NCAA college football game, Saturday, Oct. 5, 2019, in Gainesville, Fla. (AP Photo/John Raoux) John Raoux | AP

Trask is a better pure passer — he’s the first UF quarterback since Tim Tebow in 2007 with multiple 275-yard games in the same season — but he can run, too. Jones is a more dynamic athlete and averaging more yards per rush (6.3) than any of the Gators’ main running backs. But Jones also has a touchdown pass in two of the past three games.

Both are balanced enough to fit Mullen’s system and allow him to bounce between the two. UF scored a touchdown on three of the four drives they shared at LSU, and the fourth advanced 76 yards before ending with an interception in the end zone. Most importantly, neither quarterback has complained about needing more reps or struggling to get into a rhythm.

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“It’s not a big deal for me,” Trask said. “I feel like having Emory, having him be able to go in there and execute and give the defense a different look helps us out.”

The looks at FSU are similar whether James Blackman or Wisconsin transfer Alex Hornibrook is in the game.

Florida State quarterback James Blackman (1) throws in the season opener against Boise State in Tallahassee. MONICA HERNDON  |  Tampa Bay Times
Florida State quarterback James Blackman (1) throws in the season opener against Boise State in Tallahassee. MONICA HERNDON | Tampa Bay Times

They aren’t carbon copies of each other — Blackman has a stronger arm, while the lefty Hornibrook is a better game manager — but Taggart said FSU’s system doesn’t change when one replaces the other.

The only thing that seems to be changing, then, is FSU’s philosophy.

When Taggart named Blackman the starter in August, he said it was too early to think about using multiple quarterbacks. By Game 4, Hornibrook was seeing time in a multi-quarterback plan Taggart admittedly had never done before.

The next week, Taggart reaffirmed that Blackman was FSU’s starter … until a tweaked knee sidelined him for Hornibrook, who passed for three touchdowns in a 31-13 win over North Carolina State. The saga continued last week when both quarterbacks were in the game plan all week for the 45-14 loss at No. 2 Clemson.

Florida State quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) sets his receiver in action against North Carolina State in Tallahassee on Sept. 28. Mark Wallheiser  |  AP
Florida State quarterback Alex Hornibrook (12) sets his receiver in action against North Carolina State in Tallahassee on Sept. 28. Mark Wallheiser | AP

Statistically, Hornibrook is completing 7.6 percent more of his passes, averaging 2.1 more yards per attempt and has posted a passing efficiency that’s 34.8 points better than Blackman.

But Hornibrook is a grad transfer who won’t be around next year; Blackman will be (unless he goes pro or enters the transfer portal), and FSU has to keep developing him and keep him happy after Taggart failed to sign a quarterback in either of his first two recruiting classes.

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Perhaps the long-term plan is part of Taggart’s short-term strategy. In the meantime, Taggart isn’t naming a starter for this weekend, nor would he say whether both will continue to play.

“You’ll see,” Taggart told reporters Thursday.

That non-answer reaffirms what we already know.

One major program in this state has two quarterbacks, while its rival is still searching for one.

Contact Matt Baker at mbaker@tampabay.com. Follow @MBakerTBTimes.

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