Feleipe Franks hung out on the edge of the post game press conference room, waiting for his head coach Dan Mullen to give him access to the podium. Mullen was shooting the breeze with reporters, finding out about the loss and near miss of Tennessee and FSU respectively, when he turned to his quarterback laughing and said “ok I teed it up for you. They’re only going to ask you about the two incompletions.”
“Not surprising,” chuckled Franks as he jogged to the podium.
It was a light moment indicative of the career night Franks and the No. 8/9 (Coaches, A.P.) Florida Gators offense had on Saturday night in a 45-0 rout of UT-Martin. On a night the Gators celebrated their biggest fan—George Edmondson, Mr. Two-Bits—the offense put up 543 total yards.
Franks had his best completion percentage game as a Gator and in doing so, turned in the best statistical performance in that category for any Gator quarterback…ever.
His 92.6% completion is the highest in a game in Gators history and stands out for any quarterback thus far this season. There have been only three other passers to this point in 2019 that have had a completion percentage better than 80%; Joe Burrow of LSU (23 of 27 versus Georgia Southern), Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama (26 of 31 versus Duke), and Washington State’s Anthony Gordon (29 of 35 versus New Mexico State).
Franks opened the game going 15-15 and was set to head to the locker room with the 100% stat until the officials declared that receiver Tre Grimes had been tackled with 0:02 left on the clock. After pulling the team back out of the locker room, Franks was sent out to chuck up a 46-yard Hail Mary that was batted away and gave him his first incompletion of the night—one we’re willing to forget given the circumstances, a lá Evan McPherson’s field goal miss against Kentucky that he didn’t really miss.
“I thought everything was clicking,” said Franks (25-27, 270 yards, 1 TD; 6 rushes, 37 yards).
“I think it started with our o-line, they did a great job giving me time. We knew coming into the game it’d be a three-man rush. We kind of had to create windows, receivers had to stay alive, second window throws. The o-line did a great job of staying on their blocks with the three-man rush, helping each other and the receivers did a great job staying open, it really made it easy for me. I just throw it to them, and they always do their thing.”
The receivers did in fact do their thing, but credit to Franks who showed a mature patience throughout the night. Mullen has often spoke about taking the options available relative to what the defense is giving, which can mean taking the 6-yard out instead of forcing the 45-yard deep ball. But on a night when the Skyhawks were consistently dropping eight defenders to cover and the Gators offensive line was holding up in pass protection, Franks took advantage of the time given and let plays develop. One play in particular, he stood in a clean pocket for 3.5 seconds, observing the play unfold and then took a surgical shot that became his longest completion to date, a nice 69-yard bomb to Van Jefferson that was the Gators first touchdown of the night.
“It just goes to show how much time I had to kind of see one guy, go back and then come back to see Van go to the corner route,” explained Franks.
“[Van] wasn’t open originally. I was going to the corner, then they clouded it. It was kind of a high/low read: post, corner and then the flat route right there. I went back to the post because I had enough time.”
It was also the longest passing play of Jefferson’s career.
Fellow receiver Tre Grimes had a team leading five receptions for 56 yards; the five receptions tie his former career high at FSU. The junior spent much of his freshman season away from the game while transferring and was folded in to a loaded unit last season. The unit looks much the same this year but Grimes used Saturday night to show again why he should receive available targets.
“He just continues to work hard. He’s an unselfish receiver. I think that’s every position group we got,” bragged Franks.
“All those guys. It’s just awesome to see that. I mean, as a quarterback, knowing that you have no selfish guys in that room, that everybody’s cheering for one another, no matter who makes that play, at the end of the day we’re all happy because we all won.
“[Tre] does a great job, going out there and working, and when it’s his time to shine he makes the plays.”
On Grimes 56 yards, a majority of them came after contact as the 6’5”, 214 receiver picked up yards after the catch and muscled for extra room after contact.
“There was a couple catches I had where there was probably like two, three guys on me. Like I said, if that’s what I have to do to catch the ball then that’s what I’m gonna do,” said Grimes.
“I feel like the quarterback believes in me, throws me the ball and I have to make him look good. So runs after catches is something I do because it helps me and it helps him. So I feel like I just wanna go out there and after the catch and gain those extra five, 10 yards.”
Adds Jefferson, “It’s nice to see him get involved. Tre’s a great threat for us and he’s a great receiver so feel like on these next couple games, he’s gonna take off.”
More than once, Grimes came within reaching distance of the endzone and was stopped just short, lending a turf monster theory jokes the receiver.
“We were all actually talking about that, it felt like it was something pulling me back that didn’t want me to get into the endzone. But like I said, my brother scored. Tyrie [Cleveland], [Jacob] Copeland, Van, they all scored so I’m just as happy.”
Cleveland picked up a score on a 35-yard arc on another play when Franks had time to make lunch in the pocket. Redshirt freshman Jacob Copeland scored his first touchdown of his career, a 9-yard dart from Kyle Trask on the latter’s first play of the game. And redshirt freshman Emory Jones recorded his first rushing touchdown as a Gator, a 16-yard sprint.
Franks, who spends every meeting and practice with the two, was the happiest on the field for his teammates.
“Those guys are very patient. They have waited their turn. They do nothing but continue to come to the room and be the best teammate. Hard workers, every single day. Never hearing them complaining about anything.
“They are always ready, like I said. That’s why I get so excited because everybody knows that these guys work extremely hard day in and day out, and on Saturday’s they’re getting no praise, no chance to go out there and shine. They deserve the praise. They’ve worked hard, and they deserve to go out there and throw touchdowns and run a touchdown. They work extremely hard week in week out, and they deserve that praise to go out there and did what they did today.”
The running game with push from the offensive line still has clear progress that needs to be made. As the night went on though the line worked to adjust and at one point brought in three tight ends, lining up freshman Keon Zipperer as a fullback to help get running back Malik Davis into the endzone. After suffering numerous injuries, it was Davis’ first score since September 30, 2017.
The line has one week to work on the rushing game, looking to get lead rusher Lamical Perine more than 51 yards next game, but also continue to build on the career passing night the Gators had on Saturday. As the slate of SEC games come to the forefront, more near perfect nights from Feleipe Franks and the offense could bring the shakeup in the SEC East for which the country has been waiting.