On day Florida needs him most, Feleipe Franks takes step back

It was the biggest Georgia-Florida game in a decade, a battle royale between two bluebloods on the banks of the St. John’s River with the winner in excellent shape to represent the SEC East in Atlanta and in the mix for a College Football Playoff spot when the first rankings are released next week.

For Georgia it was a chance to wash the stench away after the disappointing loss to LSU two weeks ago and, maybe more vitally, an opportunity to show it was still the gold standard program in the SEC East.

For Florida it represented a chance, after nearly a decade in the wilderness, to firmly situate the program back on the national college football map in Year 1 under new coach Dan Mullen.

In the end, the differences between the two storied rivals boiled down to one position: Quarterback.

Jake Fromm, the much-maligned sophomore who won a SEC Championship as a freshman and made about every play he could make to nearly win a national championship too, was ready for this moment and stage.

Feleipe Franks wasn’t.

Every time Georgia needed a big play, Fromm made it.

When Florida needed a play, Franks, who finished 13 of 21 for only 105 yards, a touchdown and two costly turnovers, simply couldn’t.

For Fromm, it was redemption.

After the worst game of his career at LSU (16-34 with 2 INTs), many in the media — and plenty of others who refuse to come forward in the Georgia fan base — called for a change to much-ballyhooed freshman Justin Fields, a 5-star recruit.

Instead, Georgia coach Kirby Smart stuck with his “other” 5-star quarterback, the one who nearly won him a national championship a year ago.

Smart proved yet again why he’s a championship-caliber coach building a Death Star in Athens. Fromm was mesmerizing against the Gators. The sophomore connected on 17 of 24 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns, repeatedly making elite throws to the back shoulders of receivers, especially on a sequence of third and forevers in the second half, when Georgia recovered from an early Florida haymaker to rattle off 23 of the game’s final 26 points and put the game to bed.

For Franks, it was regression.

Franks’ improvement has been such an important part of Florida’s surprising season. But on Saturday, when his teammates needed him the most, he didn’t answer the bell.

Again and again, Franks missed chances to put his team in command of the game, despite excellent protection and the support of a power running game.

Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

After an impressive opening drive from Georgia yielded only a field goal, Mullen dialed up a perfectly designed flea flicker on Florida’s first play from scrimmage. In a way, it was delicious irony, as Smart and Chaney had rattled Mullen and Mississippi State’s cage a year prior when Fromm connected on a flea flicker on Georgia’s first play from scrimmage to key a rout. On Saturday the play worked masterfully, and Van Jefferson had separation and nothing but green in front of him, only to have Franks badly overthrow him and let the Bulldogs off the hook.

Jordan Scarlett fumbled two plays later and Georgia recovered, rumbling to the UF 13-yard line on the return. Three plays after that, on third and long, Fromm didn’t miss, finding Jeremiah Holloman on a back-shoulder corner route to give Georgia an early 10-point lead.

Just like that, Fromm’s team was in command and Franks’ team was reeling.

On Florida’s next possession, the Gators moved the ball well until another errant Franks throw stalled the drive. This time, facing no pressure, Franks bypassed two wide open receivers to throw a wounded quail in the direction of the only Gator the Dawgs decided to cover. The pass was intercepted, snuffing out a Florida drive where the Dawgs were clearly on their heels.

As tends to be the case with Franks, there were moments, plays and possessions where you saw the blue-chip talent Jim McElwain and Doug Nussmeier worked so hard to flip from LSU.

Florida cut Georgia’s lead to three with a beautiful 14-play, 76-yard drive that spanned parts of two quarters. The Gators converted a fourth down and on third and long. Franks scored on a 1-yard plunge that followed a marvelous 14-yard, ankle- and tackle-breaking gallop by Jordan Scarlett.

But every time Franks made a play, Fromm had an answer.

Taking over on his own 20 with only 45 seconds left in the first half, Fromm connected four times with tight end Isaac Nauta, moving the Bulldogs to the Florida 15 in 30 lightning-quick seconds. Florida held Georgia to a field goal, but Fromm’s poise and accuracy stole three points in a quarter dominated by the Gators.

Franks’ best throw of the game came early in the third quarter, when he threw an NFL-caliber rope into a tiny window to Freddie Swain on a seam route for a score to give Florida its only lead.

But Fromm has won a conference title and a CFP semifinal against a Heisman Trophy winner. He answers the bell and did so again, leading a seven-play, 72-yard drive he capped with another inch-perfect touchdown throw to Holloman.

Two possessions later, Franks fumbled inside his 5-yard line as the Bulldogs set up shop inside the Florida red zone for a second time. Florida held Georgia to a field goal despite six cracks at the end zone inside the Florida 2. But with the Gators down nine, the game was suddenly on Franks’ shoulders.

He led UF to a field goal early in the third quarter, but once again, Fromm answered on the ensuing possession.

This time, Fromm hit Holloman on third and 11 to keep the sticks moving. Six plays later Fromm found Terry Godwin on a gorgeous corner route to again stake Georgia to a two-score lead.

In two starts against Georgia, Franks is 20-for-40 passing for 135 yards (yes, both 2017 and 2018 combined), one TD and two INTs.

Florida is in good hands under Mullen. He wants to be the guy in Gainesville, has a vision for the program and, as the fight in the six-play goal-line stand demonstrated, his players are buying in.

But Saturday was a step back for Feleipe Franks, who looked a step behind the speed of the game and failed to take care of the football. Florida, already behind its oldest rival on talent, had razor-thin margins for error.

Florida has a vital November ahead, with a chance to end a five-game losing streak to in-state rival Florida State — UF’s longest in series history — at the end of the month, and a decent chance at reaching a New Year’s Day 6 Bowl.

But perhaps no player has more to prove moving forward than Feleipe Franks. Now closing the door on his redshirt sophomore season, he’s not a young quarterback anymore.

How he finishes will define the rest of Florida’s season.

It will also inform the conversation about what role Franks is to play in Florida’s future.

View Comments

  • Frank's is just not a good QB... Mullen has Florida playing above their heads atm and when he gets a QB for his system Florida will be tough.

    • bamatard

      you are right (can't believe I said that.) Bench Franks and invest in Jones, he is the future until mullet recruits somebody else.

  • I guess all that cocky lizard talk will have to wait for another year.

    News is that coach mullet tore one of his nipple rings out, hope he is okay.

    • Florida pulled off a few struggle wins and those lizards came out and wasted no time returning to their cocky and arrogant ways.

      • I think most people that cover Florida (myself included), felt the team had a small margin for error. you aren't going to beat Georgia (or many teams) when you turn the ball over three times and we all saw the depth difference right now b/w Smart's program and what Mullen inherited. Florida loses one safety to a suspension and one All-American corner in the first quarter and crumbles in the secondary.

        But as I wrote above- the main difference even aside from all that is Jake Fromm is a championship QB and Franks doesn't seem likely to ever be one.

        • Florida is a good team and Mullen has them very much trending in the right direction. UGA fans are gloating, in part, from the massive relief of having won after weeks of regional and national media doubting them. I would bet most do realize how close of a game it really was.

    • Wow. You guys are truly ignorant if you don't realize how easily the roles could have been reversed. Florida was a QB and injury away from a win. They had a stud cornerback go down early, and 3 of the TDs came against his replacement. There were 2 TDs that Florida left on the field with poor throws that a better QB would have nailed, not to mention several that would have moved the sticks. Anyone not a UGA fan, and most of the more informed UGA fans, realize that the game was closer than the final score shows and realize that the gap is closing between these two.

      It will truly be a pleasure to watch Bama undress the pups in Atlanta, assuming they make it.

      • Agree with most of Blitzer's comments.

        That said-- Georgia's ability to weather injuries is a testament to them. Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football. If Florida didn't want to lose because an All-SEC corner went out in the first quarter, they should have recruited a better replacement.

        Mullen will, I think, but yesterday we saw the difference b/w the two programs

        • I completely agree with that Neil. But keep in mind that you are comparing a coach in his third year, and a coach that came in between seasons. One is working with hand picked guys, the other is working with what was there, and what could be scratched up in a few weeks.

          I think the short time Mullen had to recruit was used to address what was the biggest issue the offense.

          That being said, UGA was clearly the better team. But as I said, the gap is closing.

      • Blitzer take you Bama arrogance elsewhere. UGA fans endured two weeks of unfair criticism of UGA following an LSU game that was also closer than the final score reflected. Especially at the hands of delusional Florida fans.

        • Look at the UGA fans who posted in the comments and tell me who is the arrogant bunch? Yourself included....

        • I watched both games. The LSU game was nowhere near as evenly matched. You must have taken the drinking to dangerous levels this weekend.

        • BamaTime, for someone who bemoans trolling as much as you do, I always enjoy your frequent displays of hypocrisy. Especially when you call someone arrogant. Look, I've given plenty of credit to how well Florida played. I just enjoy rubbing it in gator fans' faces.

          Blitzer, how clever! "You don't agree with me, well then you clearly have a drinking problem!" Solid burn. Oh, you watched both games?! You are definitely the expert here then. IF LSU was so much more dominant over UGA than UGA was over Florida, then why is the score differetial only different by 1 point?

        • And to the idea the gap is closing, just keep in mind this is clearly a rebuilding year for UGA. So before you start pointing to a narrowing gap, you need to differentiate between how much is due to UGA taking a step back and how much is it Florida taking a step forward?Honestly probably both are responsible. Next year though, UGA will be much better than this year. The gap between the two could very well open up again next year.

        • It's no worse than a UGA fan trying to call others arrogant... You have one UGA fan calling names and being cocky while you follow it up by calling others arrogant.... Pot meet kettle...

        • BamaTime, be serious. These are gators fans. They showed no mercy when UGA lost to LSU and spent two weeks spouting cocky, arrogant nonsense. They are UGA's biggest rival. When UGA beats them by 19 and does so convincingly, especially after all the trash talk, they've earned the right to have it shoved in their face. Stop trying to protect them. I'll be gracious in most wins, by not against Florida. Dawg nation has endured years of torture from them, it's time to return it.

      • Blitzer13, "a QB and an injury away." Sounds like a wish list...

        I could also point out that Georgia was two O-linemen and a couple D-linemen away. LT Andrew Thomas grades out as the best CFB linemen at any position. Ga was also without Ben Cleveland who is one of the SEC's best. Thomas's replacement also went down with injury. Now Ga's playing with a 3rd string LT. Ga has a top 5 OL with everybody healthy. Maybe even the best in CFB. What they had after those injuries was something far less. What happens if they were all healthy? I think it would have been a different game. Getting back to reality. Georgia's replacement players were better than Florida's.

        Ga dominated the 4th quarter. The patchwork O-line protected Fromm, and he hit his receivers in stride...

        Sorry your team lost in this one. Maybe next year.

        • Tim,I'm a bama grad a former player. Granted, I did get my Masters at UF, but I'd hardly call them my team. More of an offhand interest that I follow.

          Boxster, if UGA took a step back, and florida a step forward, would it that be the definition of a closing gap? Here's an idea, take a length of rope and cut it off at 10 feet. Now measure and cut off 2 feet at one end to signify UGA stepping back. Do the same at the other end to signify UF stepping forward. You'll see that the length is now 4 feet shorter and the ends are now 6 feet apart, i.e., the gap has closed.

          Now as to the scoring differential between the LSU and UF games, its true that the scores were similar. I will also concede that the final score is the only statistic that counts for the win loss record. However, if you compare UGA and LSU to UGA to UF with the other statistics, and do so objectively, you'll see that LSU thoroughly manhandled UGA for the complete game. That is not the case with UGAs win over Florida. I doubt you'll be able to do so objectively, so I've likely wasted my time, but the fact remains nonetheless.

        • Blitzer, thanks for wasting everyone's time on that stupid analogy. I very obviously understand the concept of a closing gap. My point, which you literally could not have missed any more, was that it's likely a temporary phenomenon, at least at its current level. Yes. the gap has closed this year, but the rate at which it has should not be extrapolated beyond this season, as the "gap" will fluctuate again next year and likely in a "widening" manner (as in, Georgia take more steps forward than Florida). It's not a static measurement, but a rate of change over time. Since you're a Bama grad take some time to mull all that over and consult a dictionary if there are any words you're not sure about. Please, take your time and make sure you understand everything before responding.

        • And if it makes you feel better about splitting hairs over who manhandled who the most, then please, go for it. The first half of the game was definitely close, but in the second half there was little doubt as to UGA's beat down of Florida. That statistics are different, but the overall progression and final score are largely the same. Again, though, please feel free to hyper-focus on minutia and then pat yourself on the back for being "objective".

        • So you're certain that UGA will improve and UF will remain the same and or regress, yet you mock my ability to be objective. Ok buddy.

        • Almost. UF will probably take a solid step forward next year. Odds are that UGA will take an even more solid step forward, if recruiting classes and veterancy are any indicators. Hence, both programs improving, but with an overall widening effect between the two.

Published by
Neil Blackmon