Photo by Kim Klement (Imagn)
Florida Football

Franks silences his doubters with near-flawless performance

September 8, 2019
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One of the biggest questions surrounding the Gators over the past two weeks was how quarterback Feleipe Franks would rebound from a three-turnover outing against Miami that nearly cost his team the game while causing barrage of criticism on social media.

We finally got the answer during No. 11 Florida’s 45-0 defeat of UT Martin (1-1) on Saturday night. Franks responded very well. In fact, he was almost perfect.

He completed his first 15 passes of the game, which was the third longest streak of completed passes in school history behind guys named Chris Leak and Steve Spurrier. He finished the evening 25-for-27 for 270 yards with two touchdowns and no turnovers. That 92.6 percent completion percentage is second best in program history among quarterbacks with at least 15 attempts in a game behind Danny Wuerffel. One of his incompletions came on a Hail Mary pass on the final play of the first half. He also carried the ball six times for 37 yards.

Yes, UT Martin is an FCS program and not a very successful one at that. However, the Gators (2-0) play these so-called “cupcake” opponents every year, so it’s still an impressive historical achievement.

“I believe Feleipe’s going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the country, and I still believe that,” receiver Van Jefferson said. “He’s adapting to the defenses. This is Coach [Dan] Mullen and him running defenses through practice and things like that, and Feleipe’s getting comfortable with it, so he did a great job tonight.”

While the statistics were impressive, Franks’ stellar play on Saturday night went beyond just the quantifiable. He looked more comfortable in the pocket than he has maybe in his entire career. He scanned the entire field, made smart decisions in the passing game, was more decisive on run-pass option plays and was deadly accurate. When plays broke down, he scrambled effectively. Basically, he was in complete command of the offense from his first snap to his last.

A perfect example of this came on the first play of the second half. Receiver Trevon Grimes ran a route to the left side of the field but had a defender in front of him. Franks saw that there was plenty of open field behind Grimes, so he motioned for Grimes to go deeper with his left hand. Franks drew the defender closer to him and lofted a perfect touch pass to Grimes for nine yards.

Unlike the Miami game, a large portion of his passing yards didn’t come on two chunk plays. He did a good job of not letting the Skyhawks’ unusual 3-3-5 defensive scheme bait him into making a mistake. He took the check-down when he needed to instead of trying to squeeze the ball into near-impossible windows, as he’s been known to do in the past. Mullen said that’s probably the area Franks has grown the most in since this point last season.

“This is a tough team to throw on,” Mullen said. “They’re playing drop eight all the time. You’re going to have time, but I think that showed his maturity a little bit of taking what they’re giving us, making throws. They got eight guys dropping all over the place and they got guys dropping deep, so you’re like, ‘OK, throw it deep, no,’ and then they have five guys underneath in zone coverage. They got deep coverage, and they have underneath coverage. So, I thought he really took his time of really not forcing it.”

Added Franks: “I try to take what the defense gives me. I’m not going to go deep every time and have it be incomplete. That wouldn’t be very smart. I try to take what the defense gives me, whether it’s short here or a deep ball there. I try to continually get better at it.”

The offensive line did a fantastic job of protecting him, as he was sacked just once and had enough time to do some homework on several plays.

“We knew coming into the game it’d be a three-man rush,” Franks said. “We kind of had to create windows, receivers had to stay alive, second window throws. The O-Line did a great job of staying on their blocks with the three-man rush helping each other, and the receivers did a great job staying open, it really made it easy for me. I just throw it to them, and they always do their thing.”

UF’s offense got off to a sluggish start, as they mustered just three points through the first quarter and a half. The offensive line didn’t create much push in the running game, and they opted to dink and dunk their way down the field with little success.

“We need to continue to get better,” Franks said. “We should have had more points in the first half. Just little mistakes, doing the little things. I think we have a lot of room to improve.”

Eventually, Franks’ powerful right arm sent the Gators rolling down the tracks. With just under nine minutes remaining in the second quarter, he hit Jefferson in stride on a post pattern for a career-long 69-yard touchdown.

Franks said the play was a high-low read. He originally looked at Jefferson on the post, but he wasn’t open at first, so he looked at the corner route. It was also covered, so he went back to Jefferson and fired the touchdown. A year or two ago, Franks tries firing that ball to Jefferson earlier in the play or throws the corner route. This time, he showed patience and allowed the play to develop.

On the next drive, he connected with Tyrie Cleveland for a 35-yard score on a post route. The blowout was on from there.

While he played well against an over-matched opponent, Franks said there’s still plenty to improve on. On his second (and final) incompletion of the night, he had Kyle Pitts open for a touchdown down the right sideline, but he held onto the ball too long, and Pitts ran out of room to make the catch. In a two-minute situation at the end of the first half, he opted to run for no gain rather than throwing the ball away. The mistake cost the Gators their final timeout, and Mullen seemed a bit angry on the sideline.

“I’m nowhere near perfect,” Franks said. “I try to learn every single day from Coach Mullen and Coach [Brian] Johnson. They do a great job coaching me and the rest of the quarterbacks.”

He might not have been perfect, but he was pretty darn close.

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