The Gators survived a scary evening in Lexington to improve to 3-0 this past weekend, but that win cost them their quarterback as Feleipe Franks will miss the rest of the season with a dislocated ankle. Accordingly, most of my five takeaways have to do with the quarterback position.
It is with sheer disgust that, at this point I have to include a disclaimer that probably only applies to 5% of you: what happened to Feleipe Franks is undeniably awful, and nobody should be genuinely happy about it. Everything I’m about to say is strictly stated from a football perspective, and nothing more. Yes, I wanted Franks to be benched; I most certainly did not want him to be injured. That is absolutely gross to even insinuate, as he is a human being who has had zero off field issues (looking at you, Brian Griese) and although I am glad that somebody else is now taking the snaps because I did not believe he gave Florida the best chance to win, nobody should have wanted it to have happened that way. I certainly didn’t. And again, to bookend the disclaimer, I’m mortified that I even have to provide this statement, but that’s just the world we live in.
With that said, here we go:
1: I’m running out of patience with Todd Grantham. This feast or famine style of defense, where the Gators either create a sack or a turnover or get set on fire for big chunks of yardage, is really starting to wear on me. It’d be one thing if Florida could average fifteen sacks and seven turnovers a game for an entire season, because then the ends justify the means, but that’s obviously not what’s happening. Getting burned on 3rd and 21 was a low point for this defense (hint: rushing three with a depleted secondary is not the way to go) and while I’ll give him that not having Jabari Zuniga or CJ Henderson isn’t ideal, there are no excuses- not even a weak one, there are absolutely zero excuses- to let a quarterback who couldn’t even start at Troy light you up. I’m not quite at the “fire Grantham” point yet, but I need to see improvement in the next few games.
2: Feleipe Franks has probably taken his last snap as Florida’s starting quarterback. Bold prediction, I know. And it goes without saying that I feel terrible for a guy who, from everything I’ve seen, loves the game and is loved by his teammates. But before going down with a gruesome injury, Franks proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he’d peaked as a quarterback. The fact that he threw an endangered bird into triple coverage after some seven seconds of dancing around in the backfield on Florida’s first drive demonstrates to me that the end of the Miami game wasn’t a fluke: while his physical traits are impressive, and he’s capable of making tremendous plays, he’s still very much liable to do something dreadful at any given moment, and you can’t have that if you have any plans of winning a championship. I don’t know if he enters the transfer portal after this year, tries his hand at the NFL, or even switches positions, but I’m willing to bet that someone else will be under center in 2020.
3: Kyle Trask could be addition by subtraction. How about a hand for a guy who’s been a backup since middle school, trained like he was the starter anyway for the last seven years, and after being thrown into the fire rallied his team back from a double digit fourth quarter deficit on the road to win? Now, he had help, obviously. Kentucky giving Florida’s receivers 15 yard cushions with an extremely generous zone defense made things easy, and his offensive line helped him out by stepping up late and giving him adequate time to throw. But the presence of mind he showed on the late flip to LaMical Perine on the first touchdown of the Gators’ comeback combined with the fact that he didn’t make a single one of those catastrophic mistakes I’ve been hammering Franks for since 2017 proves to me that there’s some real potential there. Sure, it was just one quarter, and that’s not an adequate sample size, but now he has possibly the weakest team in the SEC (Tennessee) and then an average FCS team (Towson) to use as warmup games for the meat of the Gators’ schedule. And yes, I expect to see Emory Jones a good deal more moving forward, but until proven otherwise, this is Trask’s team.
4: Florida got abused in the trenches on more plays than not. That’s the second time in as many years against Kentucky, too. The Gators could not open up holes in the running game, block well for Franks or create any havoc on defense. It’s telling that Josh Hammond’s 76 yard touchdown run on a jet sweep in the final minute accounted for more than half of Florida’s rushing yards on the night. Now, I have complete faith in John Hevesy to mold the offensive line into something respectable, mostly because of the way they blocked for Trask when they knew it was now or never. And the defensive line missed Jabari Zuniga, who I’m told just tweaked something and is not seriously hurt. But hopefully, this serves as a wakeup call for both lines.
5: Florida was lucky to win, and they know it. The Wildcats dominated this game, but also gave it away. Early in the second half, Sawyer Smith threw one interception inside the Gators’ ten yard line, which Shawn Davis returned 72 yards to set up a field goal. Instead of being up 21-7, the Wildcats only led 14-10. Fast forward to the fourth quarter, when Kentucky led 21-16, and Smith floated a sky ball that Davis easily picked off at midfield; Florida would convert that into a go-ahead touchdown. And for a finale, kicker Chance Poore missed a go ahead field goal with :54 left in the game. Forget all the little things Kentucky did wrong, like busting a coverage and allowing Freddie Swain to score a touchdown that was almost as easy as his game winner in this same building two years ago; without even two of these three critical mistakes, Kentucky almost certainly wins. And this is not something Florida can count on against the teams they’ll need to beat if they want to return to a New Year’s Six Bowl.
Verdict: time will tell, but this may have been the perfect wake-up call for a team with a lot of holes. To be blunt, Florida did not look like a top ten team on Saturday night, and they have a lot of growing to do. Luckily, they get to do that growing after a win, and because of that, everything this program strives for on a yearly basis remains very much in play. And while of course I wish Franks the best in his recovery, Trask and/or Jones leading the way, I’m excited to see how this team moves forward.