If the Florida Gators aren’t up and ready to go against Kentucky tomorrow, there’s a huge problem.
For starters, Kentucky provides a chance for the Gators to get better as a football team. Yes, Florida beat rival Miami to start the year and covered the ridiculous 44.5 point spread against UT-Martin, but there are numerous holes and weak links on this football team. Against the Wildcats, Florida can work on them.
Kentucky also provides a chance for the Gators to test themselves against the kind of competition they’ll need to beat in order to accomplish the things they want to accomplish. Yes, Kentucky lost a lot from last year, and now the Wildcats are relegated to a backup quarterback, but even with their obvious deficiencies, Kentucky probably the fourth best team on Florida’s regular season schedule- and it’s on the road. Against the Wildcats, Florida can learn more about what it has.
Lastly, Kentucky provides a chance for the Gators their first chance to right a wrong from 2018. Yes, Florida went on to become a much better team than it was on that night in the Swamp, but the fact remains that Kentucky beat Florida for the first time since 1986, erasing a streak of 31 straight Gator wins. Against the Wildcats, Florida can flip the first of three negative results from last season, and inject themselves with a major confidence boost.
And while each of those things goes for the entire team, they all go double for quarterback Feleipe Franks.
Let’s start with the “getting better as a football player” component. One of Franks’ big problems since the arrival of Dan Mullen is that he seems to get into a rhythm, but then something happens away from him that negatively effects him- like a blitz pickup failure, receivers failing to get open, someone runs the wrong route or a totally new look from the defense- and he immediately panics and does something completely idiotic (and often costly) to exponentially worsen the issue. Not every play is going to work out in your favor, and Franks has to accept that and not make bad situations worse like he’s done time and again throughout his career- most recently with four and a half minutes left against Miami.
With just one game to judge him by in the new season, it’s still unclear as to whether Franks has improved from 2018 or whether he’s plateaued and the Miami game was as good as it’s going to be. And yes, going 25-27 against UT-Martin is disqualified from being used to evaluate him for obvious reasons. (Please don’t make me say it.)
Now, while Kentucky’s defense is by no means elite, there are some playmakers on that side of the ball that Franks will have to be leery of, namely Josh Paschal and DeAndre Square. His first battle against a respectable defense yielded some very mixed results, but this one will come three weeks later. Of course there’s rust to work off in the season opener, but now we have a chance to see if those mistakes in that Miami game were just offseason rust or an accurate depiction of what we have in Franks this year, as the “season opening rust” excuse is eliminated.
Because if Franks produces more highly damaging mistakes against Kentucky and doesn’t counteract them with some absolute gems, we’re left with a pattern of self destructive behavior that began two years ago in Dallas and is still active now, which will force us to have to have a much more difficult conversation about the quarterback position the rest of the year. And I really don’t want to do that with so much on the table for this 2019 squad. But this is the start of SEC play; the “preseason,” so to speak, is over. Everything starts to matter now in terms of achieving the yearly goal of getting to Atlanta, and Franks has to play knowing that.
Finally, there’s the elephant in the room: Kentucky has owned Feleipe Franks. First came his first ever road start at Kentucky in 2017 in which he was benched for incompetence and had to watch as Luke Del Rio came off the bench and led Florida to victory, and then came an even uglier 17-38 performance the following year- stats that don’t account for the fact that he missed a wide open Malik Davis on a two point conversion attempt that failed- in a 27-16 loss. I’m not entirely sure what’s in the cards for Franks in 2020, but what I do know is that he has a shot at redemption, and payback, tomorrow night.
This is Franks’ chance to prove whether or not Miami was just a fluke, or if he really has hit his peak and what we saw in Orlando was the best he’s going to be on a consistent basis. This is his chance to redeem himself for his two prior subpar performances against Kentucky. This is his chance to produce a strong sixty minutes of quarterback play that he can build off and improve from.
And this is his chance to begin building his case that he’s a quarterback that Florida can do more than just win with.