FLORIDA FOOTBALL & RECRUITING COVERAGE
As the Florida Gators players prepare for the fall, we look back over the spring practices and Orange and Blue Game with former players as each recaps what he saw from his respective positional unit and what he expects from them this fall in our annual F-Club series.
As the Florida Gators players prepare for the fall, we look back over the spring practices and Orange and Blue Game with former players as each recaps what he saw from his respective position unit in our annual F-Club series.
Perhaps nobody in Florida football history was a more unlikely success story than Shane Matthews. The Mississippi native arrived in 1988 without much fanfare. He redshirted in 1988 and played just two snaps in 1989. He entered the spring of 1990 as the fifth-string quarterback but impressed new coach Steve Spurrier enough to become Spurrier’s first starting quarterback at UF.
In his three seasons as the starter, Matthews led the SEC in passing each year, fired 74 touchdown passes and accumulated 9,287 career passing yards, a school record at the time. He was named First Team All-SEC three times and finished fifth in the 1991 Heisman Trophy voting. He helped the Gators win their first official SEC Championship in 1991. He’s a member of the UF Athletic Hall of Fame and the Florida-Georgia Hall of Fame.
After a 14-year NFL career, Matthews returned to the Gainesville area and has remained involved with football. He was the head coach at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach and the offensive coordinator at Gainesville High School. He’s a regular guest on local sports-talk radio. His son, Luke Matthews (already assigned his dad’s #9 jersey), joins the Gators this season as a walk-on quarterback.
Matthews took some time to talk with Inside the Gators about Feleipe Franks’ progress, Emory Jones’ development, what makes Dan Mullen so successful with quarterbacks, his expectations for the 2019 season and more.
What is your overall assessment of the quarterback position heading into fall camp?
“I think they’re in pretty good shape. Feleipe’s coming off a really good year last year, leading the team to 10 wins. A very confident quarterback, confident football team. And then obviously with Emory Jones getting a little bit of action and still being able to redshirt, he should be ready to go. And then you always have Kyle Trask who’s a guy that you can count on if something goes wrong.”
It seemed like the light went on for Franks in the last four games. What did you notice that was different with him?
“I think a lot of it has to do with play-calling. I think it took Coach Mullen some time to feel what Feleipe was good at, and a good play-caller only calls plays that a quarterback is confident in. That’s what I saw the last four or five games, and he played at a very high level.”
Is Mullen one of the best at figuring out what his quarterbacks can do and adjusting quickly?
“I think so. He’s been calling plays a very long time. He does a great job out-scheming defenses. Great play-callers are not scared to call plays. There’s so many guys that call plays that are not creative and are scared to make a call that someone else may not make. Sometimes, you’re going to make the wrong call; you don’t always make the right call. But, I think Dan Mullen has an idea of when to make play calls, and he reminds me a lot of Coach Spurrier when it comes to that.”
A lot of people have pointed to Franks shushing the crowd against South Carolina as being a big turnaround point for him. Do you agree, or was that just a coincidence?
“I think a lot of people were giving him a lot of grief that game, and it was probably something that just kind of came out and he did it. Here’s the thing – he had a tremendous year last year. There will never be [Steve] Spurrier-type quarterbacks in Dan Mullen’s offense. That’s not what his offense is built around. And there will never be another Tim Tebow
You were such a huge part of some of the most prolific offenses in Florida football history that it is hard to imagine it happening, but have you ever been booed by your own fans before, and how did you handle it?
“I don’t know if I was booed in college. I can’t remember that far back. But in the pros, you’re always booed, which I have no problem with fans booing professionals because that’s their job. But a college athlete should never be booed. I don’t think people realize how hard it is to play quarterback. It’s the hardest position in all of sports, and, if it was that easy, everybody would do it. So much goes into playing that position, and I thought Feleipe, for the most part, has handled himself extremely well, regardless of there’s been a lot of highs and there’s been a lot of lows. He’s kept himself in an even playing field.”
What are your expectations for Franks this season?
“I think he should have a big year. I think he’s got the most weapons around him that he’s ever had at the skill positions. I think he can have a phenomenal year. If you look at the conference, he’s probably the second-best quarterback on paper. Tua [Tagovailoa’s] obviously the No. 1 guy, and then I know Jake Fromm would be a lot of people’s No. 2 pick. But I’d put Feleipe, he and [Jake] Fromm, right there at two, 2a and 2b. So, I think he’s going to have a great year.”
What do you think are some of the biggest areas he needs to continue to improve this season?
“Accuracy and anticipating is something that he definitely needs to improve on. But some of those things you can’t improve on; you’re either blessed with them or you’re not. You can work at them. But, that’s the biggest thing – know where to go with the football, deliver the football accurately into your playmakers’ hands and let them do the rest.”
What kind of improvement have you seen from Emory Jones since he got here?
“When he first got here last year, he didn’t throw the ball great his first spring. But I thought last spring, the ball came out of his hand much more natural, and obviously anytime you’re in a system for at least a year, you get more comfortable knowing where to go with the football. He’s a great athlete, and I think he can throw the heck out of the football. Just, will he get some opportunities? Mullen may have some packages, some different situations where they want to get Emory some more playing time this year. We’ll just have to wait and see.”
What is it about Mullen that makes him such a “quarterback guru,” as some people like to call him?
“Some people just have a knack of coaching and calling plays and coaching quarterbacks. There’s a lot of guys that have been coaching a long time that think they know it, but they don’t. He has a track record. He’s had production at the quarterback position everywhere he’s coached, and I think it all just comes down to he was blessed to be able to know how to out-scheme people and know when to call plays.”
You always hear about quarterbacks making a big jump from year one to year two in a system. What are the factors that go into that?
“I think the biggest thing for Feleipe is just realizing he knows he can do it now. I think it’s a confidence thing. I think the head coach is confident in him, and, if you can go out there and be relaxed and know what to do with the football, that’s the biggest thing. Depending on all of the different looks the defense gives you, you got to know where to go with the football. In year two, he should know that. A lot of people wonder, ‘Are they going to open up the playbook more?’ They might, but they may not. You don’t need a whole lot of plays; you need to call the plays your kids can execute and get the ball in the playmakers’ hands. I think in year two, the biggest thing is the confidence that they ended the year with, and they have a lot of guys back at the skill positions.”
Looking at the whole team now, what do you think are some of the biggest keys to success this season?
“They’ve got to stay healthy. Obviously, the offensive line’s going to be a work in progress, but John Hevesy always does a tremendous job with the line. I think this team can send a message against Miami, being the only game that day, that weekend, of college football. I think they have a chance to compete against Georgia, get to Atlanta. I think it’s going to come to [the Georgia] game because we have Auburn here and the following week we go to LSU. It’s a schedule that you look at and you’re like, they can get to Atlanta. I think this team believes they can get to Atlanta.”
What do you think about Mullen’s offense? There’s a lot of quarterback runs and not as many traditional drop-back passes.
“That’s kind of where college football’s gone now. He’s had tremendous success with that offense everywhere he’s been. It’s not anything that Dan Mullen would want me if I was his quarterback. He wouldn’t want me running the football. But, that’s what they do, and that puts pressure on a defense these days. They have to account for the quarterback running. It helps an offense when the quarterback can run the football, but Dan loves to throw it. You can go back and look at the games last year; they slung it around the ballpark a bunch, especially early in games. I think the more Feleipe gets comfortable – he got better towards the end of the year last year running the football, keeping the defenses honest – I think you’re going to see them get a little bit better in the passing game this year.”
What do the Gators need to do this season to take the next step from being a good team to a potentially great one?
“It just comes down to you win 10 games last year, can you win more this year? I think they can. It’s going to be tough, like I said. In my mind, there’s only three teams on their [schedule] that can match them on paper from a players standpoint on the roster. That’s LSU, Georgia and Auburn. Let’s don’t turn the football over in those games. If we’re healthy going into those games, we can win them all. For some reason, people are putting Georgia already in Atlanta. I don’t see it, personally, because I watched the game and I watched it over and over last year. Yes, we lost the game, but it was a one-score game late in the third quarter, Feleipe misses a touchdown on the first play of the game. There’s a lot of ifs, ands and buts and one play or two plays here and there that can change the outcome of a game. But, Georgia is not what everybody around the country thinks, that much better than Florida. I think they can have a tremendous year. They’ve got to stay healthy, quarterback needs to play well, but the biggest thing is stay healthy and don’t turn the football over. You’re going to have a stout defense, and you can win a lot of football games.”
How excited are you for your son to be on the team now?
“He’s a heck of a player. He’s better than I was. It’s a shame that he’s not a big kid, but he threw for over 6,500 yards in high school and over 60 touchdowns. He can throw it. So, it’s a great experience for him to be a part of this team, this program. He’s excited. He’s going to learn a lot. Hopefully, they have a lot of good bowl trips, a lot of SEC Championships and maybe other championships. He’s excited, and he’ll be an asset to the team.”
Stay tuned to Inside the Gators for the remaining F-Club series as we talk to more former players about their respective units heading into fall camp.
Inside the Gators F-Club Positional Breakdown series isn't associated with the official University of Florida F-Club