Emory Jones accounted for 550 yards and seven touchdowns, delivering a career performance in Florida's come-from-behind, 70-52 victory against lower-division Samford on Saturday.
Although the Gators (5-5) ended a three-game skid, the offensive shootout in the Swamp felt more like a loss than any outcome in embattled coach Dan Mullen’s four years in Gainesville.
Florida gave up its most points (42) in a half against any opponent, and it came against a middle-of-the pack team from the Southern Conference and less than a week after Mullen fired two of his top assistants.
Mullen vowed to get Florida fixed following last week’s 40-17 drubbing at South Carolina. No one expected it to happen overnight. But the Gators lacked energy, looked lost at times and trailed by as many as 14 points in a game they were favored to win by more than five touchdowns.
There’s little doubt that losing to Samford (4-6) would have cost Mullen his job and left the Gators on the hook for his $12 million buyout.
Now, though, Mullen’s future likely hinges on Florida’s next two outings: at Missouri and at home against rival Florida State. Win them both and he gets a chance to turn things around in Gainesville. Lose one and athletic director Scott Stricklin likely would be searching for Mullen’s replacement.
No one can look at Florida and see a program headed in the right direction. The Gators have dropped eight of their last 10 against Power Five teams and were on the ropes against a team from the Football Championship Subdivision.
Florida had won its previous four games against FCS opponents by a combined score of 199-16. The Bulldogs scored touchdowns on five of their first six drives – with little resistance — and led 42-28 late in the second quarter.
Samford’s upset bid continued into the fourth with a successful onside kick that followed a touchdown. But the Bulldogs settled for a field goal, failed to convert on fourth down and couldn’t stop the Gators down the stretch.
Jones completed 28 of 34 passes for 464 yards and six touchdowns. All of those passing numbers were career highs. He also ran for 86 yards and a score. His 550 yards total broke the previous school record (533) set by Tim Tebow in his final game, the 2010 Sugar Bowl against Cincinnati.
Kemore Gamble caught six passes for 122 yards and two scores, and Dameon Pierce ran seven times for 78 yards and two more.
Samford's Liam Welch complete 33 of 52 passes for 400 yards, with three TDs and an interception. He also ran for 65 yards and two scores.
Montrell Washington ran for a touchdown, caught a TD pass and scored on a 98-yard kickoff return.
Samford: The Bulldogs got $525,000 to make the trip to Gainesville, a nice payday that will help fund their entire athletic budget. An even better reward would have been handing Florida a stunning loss in the Swamp.
Florida: The biggest question: How long does Stricklin stick with Mullen, who led the Gators to three consecutive New Year’s Six bowls? Mullen probably deserves a chance after one subpar season. However, mounting losses and Florida’s lack of talent and recruiting prowess on both sides of the ball make it seem Mullen’s departure is inevitable, whether it happens now, in the next few weeks or at some point next season.
Samford returns to conference play and ends its season against Furman next Saturday.
Florida plays at Missouri next Saturday.