After witnessing Feleipe Franks' 2019 debut, there's one thing I think we all need to understand
ORLANDO — Saturday night was everything Feleipe Franks was and is.
The ball he threw to Josh Hammond that resulted in a 65-yard gain to set up the go-ahead score will be on Franks’ NFL Draft highlight reel. The post-touchdown pass celebration that included high-fiving Gator fans behind the team’s bench — that appeared like Franks did some, um, “communicating” with Miami fans as well — will be at the center of every “Franks is never going to get it” argument.
The patient but decisive touchdown run and dive will be why some argue that Franks turned the corner as a player willing to capitalize on all of his skills. The horrendous but baffling interception that gave Miami a chance to put together its own potential game-winning drive will be why others argue that Franks will never be an elite signal-caller.
(Franks claimed it was such a bad throw because he was hit as he made it while Dan Mullen took the blame for making such an aggressive call in that spot with 4 minutes left, but added that he did so because of how much he trusts his quarterback.)
After watching how Franks performed and acted, I’ve come to one definitive conclusion about him as the face of Florida’s program — he is who he is, and that’s not changing.
Does that mean all of the offseason chatter about his maturation was a bunch of hot air? Not necessarily. Mullen praised how Franks responded to adversity.
“I think he made a lot of good plays. He’ll know he can do a lot better,” Mullen said. “I think he knows the faith we have in him, we are going to put the ball in his hands, try and let him go win the game for us. We did and — wasn’t exactly how we drew it up, but he knows we are going to keep giving him the ball and let him make decisions and try and go win games for us.”
I was interested in how Mullen handled Franks’ night because I thought that said a lot. Would he blast him and say the throws, the celebration with Florida fans and some of the decision-making was just not up to — dare I say — the Gator standard? Nope. Mullen accepted Franks for his faults and his feats. This is who he is.
When Mullen walked off the podium following his postgame press conference on Saturday night, Franks, Hammond and linebacker Jonathan Greenard traded places with him. Hammond and Greenard were rocking official team gear while Franks came in wearing ripped blue jeans and a denim jacket. Mullen made a quip about Franks looking more like a Major League Baseball player than a college athlete, which was topical because Franks was drafted by the Boston Red Sox this summer.
Mullen has accepted the fact that he has a quarterback who goes to the beat of his own drum. That beat isn’t one that Florida fans are always going to follow along with. There are going to be more head-scratching throws and eye-rolling touchdown celebrations with Franks.
Feleipe Franks has been average all night…Florida gets a lead and he goes to the crowd to talk junk? pic.twitter.com/LIJP83iPyr
— Dayne Young (@dayneyoung) August 25, 2019
Those of us who convinced ourselves that the roller-coaster was over were thrown for a loop Saturday night. At halftime, plenty of Gators fans were too nauseous from the ride and wanted off. They wanted to get on the Emory Jones ride instead.
I don’t want to say Franks can’t get benched because obviously he did in a November game last year, but on Saturday night, there was a 0% chance that Jones was coming out of that halftime locker room as the starter. Mullen has invested too much time and energy into making Franks his quarterback project.
I say that not to tell Florida fans that they need to love Franks unconditionally and that he should be free of criticism. That’s not the case at all.
I say that to tell Florida fans that this isn’t changing. Franks might have great games in which he looks like he put it all together, but he’s never going to be perfect. He’s just not. At this point in his career — this is Franks’ 4th total and 3rd as an SEC starter — Franks is what he is. That is, an exceptional talent with next-level ability who sometimes makes high school-level mistakes on and off the field.
There’s a reason that Mullen joked at SEC Media Days that if anybody on Twitter who calls out Franks knows more than Florida’s offensive staff, he’d hire them. From the outside, it appears that Franks still struggles with the Florida quarterback fishbowl. His desire to be fully embraced by the Florida faithful conflicts with his desire to try and — for lack of a better word — shush his doubters. That battle is ongoing.
Perhaps it was premature to assume that Franks was finally going to turn the corner and close his career as a decorated Florida quarterback. And perhaps it’s premature to judge Franks based on such a small 2019 sample size.
After all, if he’d come out and threw for 400 yards with 75% accuracy and led the Gators to a rout of Miami, the “turn the corner” narratives would have been out in full force for Franks. But that’s not what happened. Instead, we saw a microcosm of Franks’ up and down career.
It won’t be like that every week. Franks could string together 3 or 4 really solid games in a row like he did to end 2019. He could also have first halves that result in boo birds against anyone on Florida’s schedule. If Florida fans thought the roller-coaster was over, Saturday night served as a reminder that there’s at least another year of the Franks ride.
They don’t have to put on ripped blue jeans and a denim jacket, but 2019 won’t be quite as stomach-churning as Saturday night if they brace themselves for every Franks twist, turn and loop ahead.