As Election Night once again showed, Florida has a hard time making up its mind. One of the most split states in the nation, yet again, delivered a very close set of elections which entered the national spotlight. Broward and Dade Counties made the national news. We know the drill by now.
We also know that in 2018, Florida-based college football programs in Power 5 conferences have caused similar levels of angst and division. Unimpressive performances rile up constituents at a level matched by politics.
In the Sunshine state this year, those performances — while hardly limited to one position — have all involved profound struggles at quarterback.
The Florida Gators were not exempt from this dynamic earlier in the year, but their quarterback woes had not been fully exposed.
Now, they have been.
The quarterback problems which were apparent at Miami in September, and which have lingered over Florida State for much of the season, have now hit Gainesville at full force. Florida coach Dan Mullen — immediately after this past Saturday’s blowout loss to Missouri, and then in the early parts of this week at subsequent sessions with the press — danced around the quarterback question after starter Feleipe Franks struggled once again, and backup Kyle Trask won loud cheers at The Swamp when replacing Franks in Week 10.
Mullen is caught in the middle of several crosscurrents, all carrying their own legitimate arguments in support of a particular approach to this situation:
Thought Process No. 1: Stick with Franks because his upside (arm strength and mobility) offers Florida the best chance to win, even with all of Franks’ limitations, chiefly his inaccuracy and his struggles in reading defenses The Gators can still get a January bowl. They still need to beat South Carolina and Florida State. They still need to finish this season well to generate momentum heading into the offseason.
Thought Process No. 2: Start Trask. No, finishing 9-3 doesn’t mean a whole lot in college football these days — at least not at a program such as Florida. Ask Mark Richt how valuable or beneficial it was to finish 9-3 at Georgia. Dawg fans got tired of 9-3 seasons, and UGA administration wanted him gone… and then upgraded the program by hiring Kirby Smart. A 9-3 season is not worth pursuing at all costs.
A Citrus Bowl bid is not worth keeping Franks on the field all the time Give Trask meaningful snaps. Give him the experience of preparing for a game knowing he will be the starter entrusted with, at the very least, the first quarter of the game. Explore how the offense can work differently with Trask so that one knows what Trask can bring to the table. Finding out what you have with Trask is the most important task for Mullen in November and the bowl game.
Thought Process No. 3: Stick with Franks not out of a desire to maximize chances of winning, but to express faith in a starting quarterback and thereby boost his confidence, which sends a message to other players that they won’t have to live in constant fear of a quick hook if they struggle. Franks always was a limited quarterback. He came up with a clutch fourth-quarter drive to beat LSU, but he threw a critical interception in that game and did not exhibit considerable efficiency.
He was a bystander in the win over Mississippi State simply hasn’t done much this season as a downfield passer. Those limitations were always there, but against Georgia and Missouri, they were exposed to a noticeable degree.
Interestingly enough, the very fact that Florida was 6-1 and owned a higher national profile before the Georgia game is precisely why the blowback against Franks — much like the pressure to have to do something about the Gators’ quarterback situation — is especially intense right now. This was never a crisis for Mullen.
Moreover, it still isn’t. This is what Mullen is inheriting, not what he recruited. Nevertheless, it FEELS more like a crisis because Florida had a 6-1 record and is now 6-3, its season standing on shaky ground.
Mullen has compelling reasons for standing his ground… and shifting his view of this situation.
It isn’t easy… but it is very much in line with Miami and Florida State, which have also been hounded by instability at football’s most important position.
Quarterbacks are leaders defined by the quality of their performances. In football as in politics, the state of Florida’s leaders elicit sharply divided and profoundly passionate reactions in 2018.
The University of Florida could not escape what befell Miami and FSU earlier in the season. Dan Mullen is left to handle a mess for a few more weeks. The one thing he knows, deep down: He has to recruit The Next Great Florida Quarterback, the field general he can trust, if his Florida tenure is to get off the ground in the next two years.
Vols Coach Pruitt- “Yes I hate Florida”
The Tennessee series with Florida has not been too kind to them as of late, but even as a heavy underdogs at the Swamp Saturday, they believe that they could change that. Oh, and then there’s your second year head coach wanting to make it clear he definitely dislikes the Gators.
Jeremy Pruitt, whose team suffered a humiliating opening-week loss at home to Georgia State and then followed that with another loss in heartbreaking fashion to BYU in overtime in week two, took to the radio airwaves Wednesday to answer questions from Volunteers fans. And, one wanted to make sure how much he despised Florida:
Jeremy Pruitt didn't mince his words when asked if he does, in fact, hate the Gators.
"Yes, I hate Florida."https://t.co/4Ux0DzPwYl
— Rocky Top Insider (@rockytopinsider) September 19, 2019
The caller asked a question about whether the Vols might be able to pull a shocker, like they did over Auburn in Pruitt’s inaugural season of 2018, but also very plainly put it to the former Alabama and Florida State defensive coordinator, “do you hate Florida?”
Pruitt answered the question about the mentality going into Gainesville, as a 14-point underdog in their SEC opener. Then threw in the line,
“And yes, I hate Florida.”
And, while Gators fans might take that insult, as perfect “bulletin board material” to motivate their team, the dislike has been there from both sides for 25 years or more.
Encouraging for the Vols, and even though it was under previous coach Butch Jones, Tennessee should have a mentality should be that they can hang with Florida. As each of the last two meetings in Gainesville under Jones, Tennessee had the lead in the final minute of the game, only to let Florida dramatically score the game-winning touchdown on a huge pass play.
A year ago in Knoxville, the Gators used six turnovers and two defensive touchdowns to wipe out Tennessee 47-21 in a game that wasn’t as close as the final.
Meanwhile, instead of the “level of hatred, or not” Gators coach Dan Mullen has bigger concerns about using dual quarterbacks in Kyle Trask and Emory Jones. And, he must deal with the expectations that the Gators should, once again, wipe out “The Big Orange.”
Then, let the media and fans talk about insults, afterwards.
Gators coach Mullen likely to use two QBs against Tennessee
After losing starting QB Feleipe Franks to an ankle injury on Saturday night against SEC rival Kentucky, the Gators have now found themselves with an unexpected decision as to who will be starting QB?
Franks was replaced by redshirt junior Kyle Trask, who was seeing his first significant action of his Florida career, especially trailing by double figures in a hostile SEC road environment. However, it’s likely that RS Freshman Emory Jones will also take some snaps at quarterback this season.
Mullen sat down with Emory Jones and Kyle Trask this morning and told them they're ready for this moment because of all the reps they've gotten in practice.
— Robbie Andreu (@RobbieAndreu) September 16, 2019
Mullens decision to potentially go with both QBs could be not only to determine which guy will be his offensive leader for the rest of the season, but to also give their next opponent, Tennessee, more to prepare for as the head into their next conference rivalry game.
The Gators second year coach announced on Monday that Franks is officially done for the season.
On a fourth-and-one scramble with 3:21 remaining, Franks was sandwiched between multiple Wildcat defenders and bent backwards. Even though replays weren’t shown, it was clear he had suffered a dislocated right ankle injury.
So bad was the injury, that trainers who came to assist Franks on the turf at Commonwealth Stadium immediately put an air cast on his right leg. Then he was eventually carted off to the locker room after nearly the entire Gator team had surrounded him and wished him well.
Frank’s has been a “lightning rod of criticism” throughout his Florida career, but did silence a lot of those critics with his play down the stretch last season. That included a late season comeback win over South Carolina, playing well in the rivalry victory over Florida State, and then, following that up with a good performance in the easy victory in the Peach Bowl over Michigan.
However, Franks and the offense struggled much of the first three quarters of Saturday night’s SEC opener at Kentucky. At the time he left with an injury he was an efficient 12-17 for 174 yards with a TD pass and 1 INT. Still, they had only put one touchdown on the board while trailing 21 – 10.
Trask went in for Franks and went on to pull out a come from behind win for the Gators, completing 9 for 13 passes, with 126 passing yards. He’ll be competing for playing time with Jones, the No. 85 overall prospect in the Class of 2018 and four-star dual-threat quarterback.
Jones saw limited action last season to maintain redshirt status, but completed 12-16 passes for 125 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions in the four games he play in. Jones is also more of a dual threat to run and that will give Mullen and staff more options on play calls, if/when he’s on the field.
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