By Jimmy Hyams
Steve Spurrier could toss a barb as well as he could toss a touchdown pass during his Heisman Trophy winning days as Florida’s quarterback.
Spurrier didn’t mind gigging Tennessee when the two teams ruled the roost in the SEC during the 1990s.
Spurrier hasn’t lost his touch. The Head Ball Coach threw shade on Florida’s passing attack during an appearance earlier this week on The Sports Animal’s SportsTalk WNML radio.
“We’re still looking to throw a touchdown pass down here,’’ Spurrier said of his alma mater. “You got any suggestions? I remember when those things were supposed to be pretty easy.’’
Not any more.
The 20th ranked Gators (2-1) are the only team in the SEC without a scoring pass.
Florida beat then-No. 7 Utah to open the season behind three rushing touchdowns from quarterback Anthony Richardson, but Richardson hasn’t played well in the last two games, a loss to Kentucky and a narrow victory over outmanned South Florida.
And how he plays could determine whether the Gators, a 10-point underdog, have much of a chance at Tennessee this Saturday. (The Gators bough 2,500 tickets of their allotment.)
So what’s happened to Richardson?
“We’re all trying to figure that out down here,’’ Spurrier said during a phone interview from Gainesville. “We all had him up for the Heisman after the first week. Said he could run like Lamar Jackson and throw like Tom Brady. The last two games he hasn’t run like Lamar Jackson or thrown like Tom Brady.
“But I don’t know what exactly has happened. He mentioned he lost his confidence, whatever that means.’’
Spurrier said Kentucky put a spy on Richardson to contain him on pass plays.
South Florida didn’t seem to do anything special.
“We haven’t done a lot of designed runs for him,’’ Spurrier said. “It’s as if we don’t want him to run too much so he won’t get hurt because we don’t have anyone else (at quarterback).’’
The backup quarterback, Jack Miller, got hurt during preseason camp.
“For the offense to be what it can be,’’ Spurrier said, “he has to be a runner as well as a passer.
“We’re hoping Anthony gets some fire in him and when he runs, run with conviction, as they say, like he did that first game. If things like that happen, then certainly we have a chance to beat about anybody.’’
Spurrier has been impressed with Tennessee’s uptempo offense under Josh Heupel.
“Obviously, it’s been very good for them,’’ Spurrier said. “When you get up at the line of scrimmage, and you’ve got a play that doesn’t look very good and you check to a better one, that makes sense. And it keeps team (defenses) from substituting. There are a lot of positives to it.’’
Spurrier thinks UT’s fast-pace attack is sustainable in the SEC and he doesn’t see defenses catching up. He noted that the Vols set a school record for points scored last year and are averaging over 40 points per game this season.
Spurrier remembers fondly the decade of the 1990s when Florida and Tennessee duked it out for SEC supremacy.
“It was usually a game to win the (East) division,’’ Spurrier said. “Tennessee and us were the best two teams in the division just about every year. Georgia, I don’t think ever won a division back in those days.’’
Spurrier mentioned that Tennessee, Florida, Florida State, Miami and Nebraska were the top five winningest programs in the 1990s.
He also said UT had the No. 1 budget in the nation while Florida was No. 2.
Spurrier said he’s surprised Florida has won 16 of the last 17 outings against Tennessee, especially since Florida hasn’t always had a great team over that stretch.
“Our teams have been pretty good, but not as dominant as that sounds like,’’ Spurrier said. “Seems like something good happens for Florida and bad happens for Tennessee. … Down here, we’re hoping that it still happens that way.’’
Spurrier mentioned Felipe Franks throwing a 63-yard touchdown pass on the last play of the game to beat Tennessee in 2015.
Billy Napier is Florida’s sixth coach since Spurrier stepped away after the 2001 season.
Dan Mullen won the SEC East in 2020 but then his team faltered the next season and he was fired.
Why couldn’t Mullen sustain success?
“That’s a pretty good question,’’ Spurrier said. “We lost to Alabama by two points last year and some of our guys seemed to be happy about it, (that Florida) only lost by two points.
“I don’t know what happened after that. It was a team not accountable to discipline. We lost six conference games; we were 2-6 in conference play. South Carolina romped up and down the field on us so the AD (athletic director) thought, `Let’s make a change now.’
“Anyway, it was maybe just time to do something different.’’
When Spurrier was hired at Florida, he felt he inherited a really good team.
When Heupel was hired at Tennessee, he didn’t bemoan his talent. He tried to maximize the players’ ability – whatever that might have been.
When Jeremy Pruitt was hired at UT, he said folks needed to wait until he got his players in the program.
“I don’t believe you should ever say that,’’ Spurrier said. “When I came down here one of the big booster guys said, `We’ll give you two or three years to get your guys in here and get this thing straightened out.’’’
Spurrier told the booster: “We’re going to be pretty good this year. Have you seen that defense I inherited. We got eight starters back from a defense that finished third in the nation.
“I admire those coaches that don’t come in with a bunch of excuses. Hey, these are my guys, I got 11, you got 11, we’ll coach them as best we can and let’s see who wins the game.’’
Spurrier said he remembers the UT losses more than the wins, but he did acknowledge the Gators got an officiating break in 2000 when Jabari Gaffney was ruled to have made a game-winning catch in the end zone when it was evident he dropped the ball.
“If instant replay had been around, they probably would have changed that one,’’ Spurrier said.
Spurrier won’t be attending the game in Knoxville but he expects a good show.
“I think you guys are on the way back,’’ Spurrier said. “Hopefully we’re on the way back, too. It might take Billy a couple of years or so, but I think Billy is a good coach and will get us up around the top of college football.’’