GAINESVILLE, Fla. — It wasn’t an ideal collegiate debut for Florida quarterback Feleipe Franks on Saturday against Michigan.
He only got 9 pass attempts in a little more than two quarters before being pulled from the game and left to watch the rest of the Gators’ 33-17 loss from the sideline.
That said, a closer looks reveals a relatively positive overall first performance from the redshirt freshman.
Coach Jim McElwain is giving his new quarterback another start this week against Northern Colorado, and he’s earned it.
The stats weren’t great — 5-of-9 passing for 75 yards, two fumbles, one lost — but the tape tells a different story.
Here’s a breakdown of every major play Franks was involved in Saturday, including all 9 pass attempts:
Pass No. 1
On Florida’s second play of the game, Franks dropped in a beautiful touch pass right over Josh Hammond’s outside shoulder to beat the inside defensive back and net a 34-yard gain down the ride side.
“You can’t throw a football any better than that,” play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore said on the call.
It would stand as Franks’ best highlight of the game, but it showed the kind of poise and touch that were perhaps the biggest questions about the strong-armed QB. That’s the play to point to in touting Franks’ potential moving forward.
On the very next play, Franks was tripped up by right guard Fred Johnson after the snap and fumbled the ball while trying to toss it to running back Lamical Perine as he fell down.
The result was a fumble, but Franks was able to recover. The stumble wasn’t his fault, but he would have been wise to focus on securing the ball rather than tossing it to Perine.
Ultimately, no major harm came from the play.
Pass No. 2
Franks started Florida’s second series with a fake pitch to Perine and a rollout to his right. Unfortunately, whatever that play was designed to be was blown up when defensive back Khaleke Hudson came unblocked off the edge and forced Franks to throw the ball away out of bounds.
Pass No. 3
Franks followed the next play with a quick wide receiver screen to Tyrie Cleveland, which netted 2 yards. The throw was on time and on target, but as was the case all day, Michigan’s defense was all over it.
Trip No. 2
Franks started Florida’s third offensive series by tripping again on his dropback. This one looked to be on him and resulted in a 7-yard loss. Most likely a simple case of first-game jitters at work, but a costly setback to start a key possession.
Pass No. 4
On the next play, Franks hit slot receiver Dre Massey with an on-target screen pass for another meager 2-yard gain. It actually looked like Massey had a chance to break into open space if not for stud Michigan defensive tackle Maurice Hurst, who started the play over center and made a perfect read to range to his left and bring down Massey.
Pass No. 5
Facing a third-and-9 later in that series, Franks tried to hit Freddie Swain down the left side. His throw was a little past the receiver, but then again, there was nowhere else to put the ball. Michigan’s David Long was right on Swain the whole time. It was a safe throw that would have needed to be as perfect as the first completion to Hammond to have a chance.
Pass No. 6
On second-and-8 in Florida’s fourth offensive possession, midway through the second quarter, Franks connected with Brandon Powell on a short curl route for a 6-yard gain. Another conservative play call. The throw was on the money, but again, Michigan’s defense was in position to make sure there were no yards after the catch.
Pass No. 7
Franks started Florida’s next series by taking a quick three-step drop and lofting a floater toward Cleveland down the right side. Cleveland stopped his progression down field and came back to the ball to haul it in for a 31-yard gain. Whether by design or adjustment, it was a good spot to put the ball as Michigan had Tyree Kinnel protecting over the top with cornerback Lavert Hill trailing Cleveland from behind. There was no room to lead the receiver and the end result of the shorter throw was one of Florida’s most productive plays.
Pass No. 8
After Mark Thompson’s redirection touchdown run was called back by a holding penalty, Florida was facing a third-and-13. Franks threw an on-the-money pass down the left side toward Swain, but Brandon Watson was right on the receiver’s hip and batted the pass away for a terrific defensive play. It was an incompletion, but there was nothing more Franks could have done on that throw.
Pass No. 9
Franks’ final passing attempt of the game came early in the third quarter on a play-action call on first down. He rolled to his right and threw on the run downfield toward Hammond. Sticking with the theme of the game, Hill was right on top of the receiver and the ball bounced off Hammond. It was actually a precise and catchable pass, but Hill’s tight coverage caused enough distraction to foil the Hammond’s attempt.
Fumble No. 2
Franks ended that drive and his time in the game by fumbling on another attempt to scramble for a first down on third-and-4. The ball seemed to simply slip out of his hands, Michigan recovered at the Gators’ 37 and converted a field goal to go up 26-17.
Asking a redshirt freshman quarterback to make his collegiate debut on such a big national stage against maybe the best defensive front Florida will see all season was tough, especially when giving him limited opportunities to use his best asset (his strong arm) and then yanking him from the game in the third quarter.
At least one Florida teammate felt Franks should have finished out the game.
McElwain said he doesn’t expect Franks to have any loss of confidence after the early hook because it was discussed during the week that graduate transfer Malik Zaire would get a shot to play too.
And Franks shouldn’t be any less confident. Ultimately, he was very sharp on the passes he was allowed to take downfield, made no mistakes with his arm (the fumbles are another story) and simply had little opportunity for success with Michigan’s smothering defense and a conservative game plan.
There weren’t many positives to take away from the Gators’ season-opening loss, but on closer review, put Franks’ performance on the short list.
The redshirt freshman will try to solidify the starting job this week against an FCS-level Northern Colorado team while, one would hope, having a little more room to operate in the pocket and downfield.
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