Feleipe Franks was not the main reason that the streak is over.
It’s not like the Florida quarterback threw pick-6 after pick-6 in a game that the Gators should have won by 3 touchdowns. To say that Franks was the only person who held Florida back would be a bit harsh. Missed tackles and a questionable run-to-pass ratio were great contributors to the Kentucky loss, as well.
But as Franks continued to struggle to sustain drives Saturday night, a little question crept back into my mind.
What kind of job security does Franks have?
That’s a complicated question because unlike with Jim McElwain, Franks isn’t getting pulled for a bad half. Dan Mullen isn’t going with the hot hand approach. He’s going with the development approach.
Mullen has been adamant about that from the jump. He’s of the impression that Franks’ year as a starter under McElwain was forced, and that it shouldn’t really count against him.
That was evident again when Mullen was asked about Franks’ performance after he had time to watch the film.
“You know, I thought he missed some things. They weren’t big misses, just experience misses with reads when you go through progressions and when you can make certain reads,” Mullen said to the media on Monday. “I thought he made a couple poor decisions, but overall, I did not have an issue with his performance for where he’s at in this stage of his development.”
I can tell that Mullen and I have different definitions of an “experience miss.”
You see, for me, someone who has appeared in 13 games and started 10 of them is plenty experienced to know how to make the right reads and that an occasional check down is the smart thing to do.
For Mullen, an “experience miss” is based on the premise that this was only Franks’ second start in his offense and really the first one against a legitimate defense (no offense, Charleston Southern). That’s the type of comment that you would expect to hear from a coach that’s still trying to build up a quarterback’s confidence.
Clearly, Mullen is doing whatever he can do loosen Franks up:
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 2, 2018
Either way, Franks had far too many “experience misses” on Saturday night for Florida to win that game. Franks completed 45 percent of his passes for 6.1 yards per attempt. That’s actually not too far off from a line we’d see from Mullen’s last quarterback, Nick Fitzgerald. The difference being that Franks doesn’t have Fitzgerald’s running abilities. That’s not news.
What was news was seeing how Mullen did everything he could to make it seem like Franks’ mistakes were easily correctable.
Florida is now 0-6 in its last 6 Power 5 contests that Franks started. And ironically enough, the last time the Gators beat a Power 5 team when Franks started was 2017 Kentucky … when Franks was benched for Luke Del Rio, who led them to a comeback victory. The only time that Florida won a game that Franks started and finished was 2017 Tennessee, which obviously ended with Franks converting an improbable Hail Mary to knock off a team that failed to win an SEC game.
Gators fans know that. That’s why when they see Franks struggle like he did on Saturday, it’s hard to get on board with Mullen’s justification of his mistakes. They were made well before Mullen returned to Gainesville.
Mullen’s patience for Franks’ mistakes is rooted in his desire to prove his own worth. After all, he was brought to Florida to develop the next Tim Tebow/Dak Prescott/Fitzgerald at the position. If he doesn’t, his tenure will deemed a failure.
McElwain’s lack of patience for Franks’ mistakes was rooted in his desire to save his job. After all, he was the Group of 5 hire who was always trying to prove he was good enough for a big-time program like Florida. He didn’t, and his tenure was deemed a failure.
The glaring difference is that McElwain felt he had to do whatever he could to score points to squeak out victories. The leash was short because it wasn’t about building up Franks. It was scrambling to avoid the embarrassing loss.
On Saturday night, Mullen didn’t scramble to avoid the ultimate embarrassing loss. For lack of a better phrase, he trusted the process. He can afford to do that because he’s in Year 1 after he took over a 4-win program.
Mullen will continue to play the long game because he can. The question is how long is he willing to play it. As in, what happens if Franks is making the same “experience misses” and Florida is still a bottom-feeder team by the time the Vanderbilt matchup rolls around in Week 7? Would Mullen cut his losses with Franks and turn to Kyle Trask?
That’s a hypothetical question that Mullen doesn’t have to face until the situation presents itself.
For now, he clearly likes the skill set of Franks. Few quarterbacks that Mullen has worked with have the arm of Franks. And while he certainly isn’t Fitzgerald, Prescott or Tebow as a runner, Franks can still use his legs when needed. Combine that with Mullen’s ability to scheme to get receivers open in space, and it seems like it should work.
Mullen still believes it will, though Saturday night’s performance served as a reminder that Franks’ accuracy issues and decision-making are far still limiting the offense. Mullen is no longer at Mississippi State, where he had more time to work on his quarterback reclamation projects. In a bubble like Florida, time will tell just how long Mullen is willing to work on Franks.
He’s got a lot of work left to do.