Florida redshirt freshman Jack Miller III will make his first career start in the Las Vegas Bowl on Dec. 17 for a Gators team with some quarterbacks remaining.
Miller will replace Anthony Richardson against Oregon State (9-3). Richardson declared himself for the NFL Draft on Monday after starting every game for the Gators (6-6).
Jalen Kitna’s arrest last week for child pornography and his subsequent firing left Florida without a player who threw a pass this season.
“It’s a sad and tragic event for everyone 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 arrest on Nov. 30.
“Jalen is going to have to move on,” Napier said.
Miller, a transfer from Ohio State in December, will come despite not playing in 2022. He broke his thumb in August and has been slow to recover. Miller was due to return at the end of September, but doctors only cleared him a few weeks ago.
“He was able to take reps, and certainly this week in particular he was able to take a bunch of reps,” Napier said.
Walkout quarterback Kyle Engel and freshman caller Max Brown will support Miller, a 4-star prospect at Chaparral High in Scottsdale, Ariz., and the nation’s 13th pro-style quarterback in the 2020 class.
Napier signed Miller last December due to uncertainty surrounding 2021 starter Emory Jones and the possibility of Richardson leaving after the 2022 season.
While Richardson was erratic at times, he finished the season with 26 touchdowns (17 passes, 9 carries) and 3,203 total yards (2,549 passes, 654 carries). The 20-year-old, however, only completed 53.8% of his passes and was hesitant at times to run the ball.
Napier felt that Richardson had matured during their only season together.
“As a person, comfortable with the role, the leadership aspect, and definitely made a lot of progress in terms of football intelligence and defensive structure, protections,” Napier said. “The [NFL] the feedback was really positive on maybe where it’s projected. These are really tough decisions for the player, the family, obviously everyone 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 a good impression heading into the offseason.
The Gators quarterback room is sure to change drastically.
Napier is likely to sign someone from the transfer portal. Meanwhile, California high schooler Jaden Rashada is headlining the Class of 2023 as the nation’s No. 7 quarterback prospect, according to 247Sports. His commitment may become official on December 21 during the early signing period. The Gators also received a non-binding verbal commitment on Thursday from Texas high schooler Derek “DJ” Lagway, a dual-threat quarterback ranked No. 4 in his position and No. 24 overall in the Class of 2024. He will not be able to sign before next year.
Miller committed to Ohio State, where he appeared for five games in 2021 as a backup to Heisman runner-up CJ 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 praise from Napier in March. The first-year coach called Miller’s signing “a good move.” especially in light of Jones’ sudden departure during the first week of spring training.
Miller also impressed his teammates during spring drills.
Redshirt senior offensive lineman Richard Gouraige said in March that Miller and veteran receiver Justin Shorter frequently worked together after practices.
“He’s a dog,” Gouraige said of Miller. “I love his work ethic. I like what I see from Jack Miller. Even though he’s a young player, he’s ready to play.
“If he gets a chance, I know he will do great things.”
In his only public performance with the Gators, Miller struggled in the April 14 spring game. He went 13 of 23 for 123 yards and one interception while dealing with the first-team defense behind a struggling second-team offensive line and throwing to inexperienced receivers.
Napier would praise Miller’s improvement at the start of preseason practice before his thumb injury at the end of the second week of camp.
Miller hasn’t thrown a competitive pass since going 2-of-3 for 35 yards in Ohio State’s 54-7 win on Oct. 23, 2021 at Indiana. He and the Gators face surging Oregon State, ranked 13th out of 131 teams nationally in passing efficiency defense (113.37) and tied for eighth in touchdown passes allowed (11) with Georgia and Boise State.
But the Gators will also be in better shape at receiver after five losses in the Nov. 25 loss to Florida State.
Shorter, who had 29 catches for 577 yards and 2 scores, decided to skip the bowl game to prepare for next month’s Senior Bowl. The redshirt senior missed 3 out of 4 games to end the season with a hamstring injury.
Otherwise, top passer Xzavier Henderson returns after missing the last two games. Thai Chiaokhiao-Bowman is also back after sitting out against FSU while Ja’Quavion Fraziars returns after injuring his shoulder in a jumping touchdown Nov. 5 at Texas A&M.
“This group is much healthier than the last time we played,” Napier said. “It’s good to see these guys coming back and a smile on their face, moving around and participating.”
Etienne, James honored
Freshman wide receiver Trevor Etienne was named to the All-SEC Freshman team after exploding onto the scene as one of Florida’s top point guards.
Linebacker Shemar James joined after a strong freshman season.
Etienne rushed for 705 yards and averaged 6.41 yards per carry (7th, SEC) while splitting time with second Montrell Johnson. Etienne’s 45-yard touchdown at FSU tied the score at 38 in a 45-38 loss and highlighted a career-high 129 rushing yards.
A Louisiana native and brother of Jacksonville Jaguars starter Travis Etienne, Trevor recorded 21 points from at least 10 yards, second only to Johnson’s 25.
James recorded 40 tackles, including 2 sacks, had 3 quarterback rushes and a forced fumble.
This article first appeared on OrlandoSentinel.com. Email Edgar Thompson at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter at @osgators.