Florida redshirt freshman Jack Miller III will make his first career start during the Dec. 17 Las Vegas Bowl for a Gators squad with few remaining quarterbacks.
Miller will replace Anthony Richardson against Oregon State (9-3). Richardson declared for the NFL Draft on Monday after starting every game for the Gators (6-6).
Backup Jalen Kitna’s arrest last week on child pornography charges and subsequent dismissal left Florida without a player who had thrown a pass this season.
“It’s a sad, tragic event for all the people involved here,” coach Billy Napier said of Kitna on Thursday after their first bowl practice.
Napier said he was unaware of the investigation until the morning of Kitna’s Nov. 30 arrest.
“Jalen is going to have to move forward,” Napier said.
Miller, a transfer from Ohio State in December, will step in despite not playing in 2022. He broke his thumb in August and was slow to recover. Miller was scheduled to return in late September, but doctors did not clear him until a few weeks ago.
“He’s been able to take reps, and certainly this week in particular he’s been able to take a bunch of reps,” Napier said.
Walk-on quarterback Kyle Engel and first-year signal caller Max Brown will back up Miller, 4-star prospect at Chaparral High in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the nation’s 13th-ranked pro-style quarterback in the 2020 class.
Napier signed Miller last December because of the uncertainty surrounding 2021 starter Emory Jones and the chance Richardson would leave after the 2022 season.
While Richardson was at times erratic, he finished the season accounting for 26 touchdowns (17 passing, 9 rushing) and 3,203 total yards (2,549 passing, 654 rushing). The 20-year-old, however, completed just 53.8% of his passes and was at times tentative running the ball.
Napier felt Richardson matured during their one season together.
“As a person, comfort with the role, the leadership aspect, and certainly made a lot of progress when it comes to football intelligence and defensive structure, protections,” Napier said. “The [NFL] feedback was really positive about maybe where he’s projected. Those are really tough decisions on the player, the family, obviously all involved.
“We tried to get Anthony as much information as possible. He was an absolute pro.”
Richardson’s decision gives Miller a chance to make an impression heading into the offseason.
The Gators’ quarterback room is sure to change dramatically.
Napier is likely to sign someone from the transfer portal. Meanwhile, California high schooler Jaden Rashada headlines the 2023 class as the nation’s No. 7 quarterback prospect, according to 247Sports. His committment can become official Dec. 21 during the early signing period. On Thursday, the Gators also received a non-binding verbal commitment of Texas high schooler Derek “DJ” Lagway, a dual-threat quarterback ranked No. 4 at his position and No. 24 overall in the 2024 class. He can’t sign until next year.
Miller committed to Ohio State, where he appeared during five games in 2021 as the backup to Heisman finalist C.J. Stroud. Miller completed 7-of-14 passes for 101 yards and rushed 7 times for 22 yards and a touchdown.
The 6-foot-3, 211-pound Miller earned Napier’s praise in March. The first-year coach called Miller’s signing “a good decision.” particularly in light of Jones’ sudden departure during the first week of spring practices.
Miller also impressed teammates in spring drills.
Redshirt senior offensive lineman Richard Gouraige said in March that Miller and veteran receiver Justin Shorter worked together frequently after practices.
“He’s a dog,” Gouraige said of Miller. “I love his work ethic. I love what I see from Jack Miller. Even though he’s a young player, he’s ready to play.
“If he gets a shot, I know he’ll do great things.”
During his only public performance with the Gators, Miller struggled during the April 14 spring game. He finished 13 of 23 for 123 yards and an interception while facing the first-team defense behind a struggling second-team offensive line and throwing to inexperienced receivers.
Napier would praise Miller’s improvement early in preseason practices prior to his thumb injury late in the second week of camp.
Miller has not throw a pass in game competition since going 2 of 3 for 35 yards during Ohio State’s 54-7 win Oct. 23, 2021, at Indiana. He and the Gators face surging Oregon State, ranked 13th of 131 teams nationally in passing efficiency defense (113.37) and tied for eighth in passing touchdowns allowed (11) with Georgia and Boise State.
But the Gators also will be in better shape at receiver after five sat out a Nov. 25 loss at Florida State.
Shorter, who had 29 catches for 577 yards and 2 scores, decided to skip the bowl game to get ready for next month’s Senior Bowl. The redshirt senior missed 3 of 4 games to end the season with a hamstring injury.
Otherwise, leading pass-catcher Xzavier Henderson returns after missing the final two games. Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman also is back after sitting out against FSU while Ja’Quavion Fraziars returns after he injured a shoulder during a leaping touchdown catch Nov. 5 at Texas A&M.
“That group is a lot healthier than the last time we played,” Napier said. “It’s good to see those guys back and a smile on their face, moving around and participating.”
Etienne, James honored
Freshman tailback Trevor Etienne was named to the All-SEC Freshman team after he exploded onto the scene as one of Florida’s top playmakers.
Linebacker Shemar James joined him following a solid first college season.
Etienne rushed for 705 yards and averaged a team-leading 6.41 yards per carry (7th, SEC) while splitting time with sophomore Montrell Johnson. Etienne’s 45-yard touchdown run at FSU tied the score at 38 during a 45-38 loss and highlighted a career-high 129 rushing yards.
A Louisiana native and brother to Travis Etienne, a Jacksonville Jaguars starter, Trevor recorded 21 runs of at least 10 yards which is second to Johnson’s 25.
James recorded 40 tackles, including 2 sacks, had 3 quarterback hurries and a forced fumble.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Edgar Thompson at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @osgators.